05/23/2013 12:31PM

Jay Hovdey: Talamo learns mile is Obviously's comfort zone

Jenny Burgos
Joe Talamo says Obviously, shown finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Mile. finds his best rhythm at that distance, something the horse cannot do when he is asked to sprint.

If there was a better losing performance last year than Obviously’s third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, it didn’t make the headlines. After taking the star-studded field through three increasingly hot quarters in 23.34 seconds, 22.82, and 22.65, Obviously was still fighting like an overgrown alley cat when Wise Dan and then Animal Kingdom came along in the final stages. Wise Dan won by 1 1/2 lengths in a Santa Anita course-record 1:31.78, while Animal Kingdom beat Obviously by just half a length for second money.

In appreciation for all three, the large crowd went ”Oooh!” and “Aaah!” For his part, Joe Talamo dismounted from Obviously feeling like a man who had just climbed Mt. Everest only to find two other guys already standing there sipping brandy.

“I was so proud of my horse, I hardly had words,” Talamo said. “He showed a lot of guts. Believe me when I tell you that right up to the very last part I thought we’d win. And who beats us? The Horse of the Year and the Derby winner, who goes on later to win the World Cup. But at that level, that’s the game you play.”

For the past couple of years, turf milers have been California’s deepest division, and Obviously has been the best of the best. After the BC Mile he needed a rest and got it, leaving the Santa Anita winter meet mainly to Suggestive Boy and Silentio, who put on a great, climactic show in the March 2 Kilroe Mile that effectively hurled the gauntlet. Bring on Obviously.

The early season races took their toll, however. Suggestive Boy missed training to deal with a sore shin, while Silentio is getting a break after trying Wise Dan in the Marker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland. That leaves Saturday’s $150,000 American Handicap to Obviously and a cast of relatively new shooters, among them the 2012 French 2000 Guineas winner Lucayan and the similarly well-traveled Barocci, who was bred in Japan and raced in France and New York before waking up one morning with John Sadler in California.

Talamo and Obviously have been inseparable since early June 2012. Mike Mitchell teamed them for a couple of sprints, then tossed them into mile races and watched as they won a Del Mar allowance, the Del Mar Mile, and then the Arroyo Seco Mile at Santa Anita over the touted Japanese runner Trailblazer. In his six starts pre-Talamo, including three races in his native Ireland, Obviously never ran farther than seven furlongs.

“In those first two races I rode him at Hollywood going three-quarters, when they come out of the chute there were a couple of times we ran up into a bad spot because he was so tough trying to relax,” Talamo said. “The plan always was to run him a mile, to get him out there by himself with no one around so maybe he’d prick his ears up and relax, then hopefully kick home. It worked. The rest is history.”

Obviously returned to the races on April 20, in the San Simeon Handicap over the Santa Anita hillside course, broke slowly and immediately began pulling hard. Talamo, outweighed by about a half a ton, knew better than to wrestle with his fresh horse, so they rolled to the lead and opened daylight on the field. It was only in the closing yards they were caught by course specialist Chips All In to lose by half a length. Talamo was hardly discouraged.

“That’s not his best distance,” Talamo said. “He can’t get in the same good rhythm sprinting that he’s got going a mile.”

Obviously is one of those classic show-off Thoroughbreds, going through life with a free-wheeling, get-out-of-my-way attitude that requires their handlers to put all human ego aside. In the past they have had names like Native Diver, Precisionist, Spend a Buck, Lady’s Secret, Bayakoa, and Commentator, and they are truly a sight to behold.

Still, some semblance of order must be maintained, some energy must be preserved, and there are any number of techniques a rider will use to lull an aggressive partner into a temporary state of calm. A long hold on the reins, various pressure on the bit, altered distribution of weight, prayer – everything has been tried at one time or another. Even Talamo, at 23, has his own bag of tricks.

“I’ve tried singing to my horses a couple times – ‘I Just Haven’t Met You Yet’ by Michael Buble,” Talamo confessed. “Some of ‘em didn’t like it that much and ran off, although I think it was the singer, not the song.”

Global Hunter returns to Argentina

The musical accompaniment to the American Handicap used to be all manner of patriotic tunes, since it was traditionally presented on the Fourth of July. In recent years the powers that be moved the race from the Fourth, and in 2011 even shaved one of its nine furlongs to turn it into one of the many turf miles dotting the California landscape.

This is the last American, at least at Betfair Hollywood Park, and among the winners of its 43 runnings at 1 1/8 miles on firm summertime turf were Hall of Famers Ack Ack and John Henry, champion Tight Spot, and the two-time winners Bold Tropic, from South Africa, and The Tin Man from, like, Oz, who won the race as a 4-year-old, went into witness protection, then emerged to win the American again at age 8.

Still, there will be no more memorable American winner than Argentina’s horse Global Hunter, who won the final nine-furlong running on July 4, 2010. No sooner had Global Hunter caught the front-running Temple City (ridden by Joe Talamo) to win by a head than Brice Blanc pulled him up and jumped off. Global Hunter had fractured both sesamoids of his right fore and dislocated the fetlock joint.

There was immediate talk of euthanasia, but owners Shawn Turner and Monty Pyle insisted their horse at least be given a chance. Dr. Doug Herthel fused the joint at his Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic, and by the following spring Global Hunter was able to breed to a few mares at California’s Magali Farm.

Now he has gone home. Gobal Hunter was sold earlier this year to a South American syndicate who valued both his Argentinean roots and a North American record that included not only the American Handicap, but also a victory in Del Mar’s Grade 1 Eddie Read, and placings in the Del Mar Mile, Oak Tree Mile, and Bing Crosby.

“Absolutely they still remembered him down there,” said Turner, who scouted the scene before the sale. “The office of his former trainer is plastered with pictures of Global Hunter. I also got to meet his dam, who was famous in her own right. It was good to see he’s going somewhere he’ll be truly appreciated.”