01/19/2012 1:29PM

Hovdey: Talamo rides through dry spell

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Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey Joe Talamo, 22, looks to get back in a stakes race's winner's circle with M One Rifle in Saturday's Palos Verdes.

Joe Talamo celebrated his 22nd birthday last week not with a magnum of Cristal, or a cruise to Cancun, or a new Louis Vitton golf bag, although he could have. Instead, Talamo shopped more practically for the occasion, making a trip to his local Ace Hardware to buy a crowbar in order to pry what had become a nagging, worthless monkey from off his back.

He didn’t waste any time, either. When Talamo pulled up after the first race at Santa Anita on Jan. 12 more than five lengths clear of the field aboard the 4-year-old filly To the Top, he was winning his first race in 10 days and only his second race of the meet, which to that point had stretched to 57 mounts with only the one other score.

This is not what Talamo fans had come to expect. Their man had an outstanding 2011 out West, topped in winners only by perennial leaders Joel Rosario and Rafael Bejarano. In fact, Talamo came closest to breaking up the Bejarosario monopoly when he split them at Del Mar, finishing just five winners back of Joel.

“I read a real good sports psychology book a while back,” Talamo said. “Of course, I can’t remember the name of it now, but I remember what it said, and the worst thing you can do when you’re in some kind of slump is go to pressing and changing things to try and make something happen.”

Talamo said his agent, Scotty McClellan, tried to keep things loose through the dry spell.

“Scotty was great,” Talamo said. “There’d be days I’d get a couple of seconds and we’d be high-fiving, trying to laugh it off.”

That’s not to say Talamo was cavalier about the bad streak. He continued his habit of poring over video replays of races, focusing particularly on the little things that might have made a difference.

“This wasn’t the first time I was in a slump, and I know it won’t be the last,” Talamo said. “You’ve got to just ride through it.”

And keep a set of blinkers handy for the rest.

“Yeah, I was coming back one day some guy yells at me, ‘You need to retire!’ ” Talamo recalled. “I didn’t say anything.”

Just as well. Talamo followed up his birthday win with another Saturday and two more on the holiday Monday, both of those for trainer Art Sherman. Now, Talamo is anxious to begin collecting stakes wins again. After all, here’s a guy who won the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial, the Vanity, the Yellow Ribbon, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint before he turned 21. A young man gets a taste for such things.

On Saturday, Talamo and M One Rifle will collaborate for the second time in the $150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes at Santa Anita. On paper, the field for the six-furlong event should be displayed in lights, having attracted not only 2011 winner Euroears and the formidable Mensa Heat, but also the 2011 Eclipse Award male sprint champion Amazombie.

A storm is coming, though, if you want to believe the weather folks, which could impact the final shape of the field. It is, as they say, a long year. Rain or shine, Talamo is keen to see if M One Rifle, from the Bruce Headley barn, can improve on his third-place finish to Pacific Ocean and Irrefutable in the Vernon Underwood at Hollywood Park in late November.

“I was real impressed that day for the first time I rode him,” Talamo said. “The winner just freaked, got out there fast and just didn’t stop. But my horse made up two or three lengths the last part of it and just did get beat for second.”

Headley has his fingerprints all over M One Rifle as co-breeder and part owner as well as being the man who has trained the son of One Man Army to five wins in 17 starts and more than half a million in earnings. Now 6, M One Rifle won the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on opening day of the 2009-10 season as if he might take a place among Headley’s gallery of outstanding sprint stars, including Kalookan Queen, Son of a Pistol, Halo Folks, and champion Kona Gold.

In reality, M One Rifle has tended to fall short of the mark against the very best, winning just one minor stakes race in the two years since his Malibu. He dodges nothing, though, having tangled regularly last year with the likes of Amazombie and Smiling Tiger. And if the track comes up wet, M One Rifle will be able to tap into the accommodating DNA supplied by his damsire, Bertrando, who in 1993 won the San Fernando at Santa Anita by nine and the Woodward at Belmont by 13 1/2 over tracks generously described as sloppy.

“We drew the rail on Saturday, so we’ll just have to break and see what happens,” Talamo said. “One thing about Bruce Headley horses, though, they’re pretty much all the same. You can just give them their head and they know where to go.”

Talamo gives a nod of credit for riding out the winless storm to Eddie Delahoussaye, the patron saint of all young jockeys hailing from Louisiana.

“I was over to Eddie’s house on New Year’s Day, and he told me how one time he was 0 for 86,” Talamo said, still shaking his head. “I said, ‘Man if you can do that, I could go 1 for 150, so I better hold on tight.’ ”

Delahoussaye has the consolation of two Kentucky Derby trophies and a plaque in the Hall of Fame, which at least gives Talamo something to shoot for. Eddie D. also suffered through his bad streak in an era when social media meant either drunk dialing at midnight or standing on a street corner yelling at traffic. Talamo, on the other hand, had to suffer the slings and arrows of an active digital constituency, and the knives were out. He did have one consolation.

“At least my Twitter friends still liked me,” Talamo said.