09/12/2006 11:00PM

Ponopaan should be tighter now

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BOSSIER CITY, La. - Ponopaan, the solid third-place finisher in the $100,000 Cajun Stakes for trainer Cole Norman in his last start, should rate a strong favorite in Friday's optional claiming feature at Louisiana Downs. The first race on the 10-race card also drew Tee El, who will be putting a two-race winning streak on the line, as well as veteran Cort's P. B., a four-time winner locally who is coming off a troubled fifth-place finish in the Cajun after winning the $75,000 J. Delahoussaye Memorial Stakes at Evangeline Downs earlier in the summer.

Norman has shopped for a spot for Ponopaan after the 7-year-old scored in optional claiming company on July 4, but options were limited for the 10-time winner. The result was a six-week vacation between starts, although Ponopaan did quite well to complete the trifecta at 10-1 in the Cajun on Aug. 19. A much shorter price is expected on Friday, and Carlos Gonzalez will once again handle the riding chores.

Tee El's string of recent success came immediately after being claimed by his present trainer, Victor Arceneaux. After an impressive win in conditioned claiming company in late July at Evangeline Downs, Tee El launched a furious rally against optional company two weeks later and proved best in game fashion.

Cort's P. B., unable to make the early lead in the speed-laden Cajun with a wide trip, should be a pace factor on Friday, and that will make the 6-year-old dangerous. Trainer Keith Bourgeois has a bullet half-mile workout in his veteran sprinter between starts, and an effort close to the Beyer Speed Figure of 103 that Cort's P. B. earned in the Delahoussaye may be in the cards. Kirk LeBlanc, fresh off winning the riding title at the Evangeline meeting that ended on Labor Day, will be in the saddle once again.

Talamo making an impression

Apprentice jockey Joe Talamo's poise and professionalism belies his age of 16, and that confidence is coming through on the track. He registered his seventh multiple-win day last Sunday at Louisiana Downs, where he launched his riding career in June.

Talamo is fast becoming an apprentice of note. A native of New Orleans, he has won with 28 of 190 starters through Wednesday, and has also finished second with 24 of his mounts and third with 38. He is tied for 10th in the standings at Louisiana Downs.

"Ever since I was 8 years old, I knew I wanted to be a jockey," said Talamo, who is being home-schooled. "I was about 11, 12, around there, and I started getting on horses."

Talamo's first experiences in racing came alongside his father, Joe Talamo Jr., a former trainer who has long worked for trainer Connie Tassistro. It was for Tassistro that the younger Talamo won his first career race, aboard Well Heavens Sake on July 9.

"He's been like an uncle to me," the jockey said of Tassistro. "Ever since I was 7 or 8 years old, I helped him around the barn, and I really have to give him the credit for helping me get up to where I've been, him and my dad."

Talamo said his fellow riders have also given him good advice in his new career.

"A lot of the jocks tell me to just be patient, whether you're on the front or coming from 40 back," he said.

Talamo scored a triple on Sunday, his third of the meet behind three-win days on July 29 and Sept. 8. His winners Sunday included a $16 horse, Grey Ember, and a $13 horse, Ain't He a Pistol. He said that after the meet he will ride at Fair Grounds.

- additional reporting by Mary Rampellini