02/07/2007 1:00AM

Talamo eager to return, then try Keeneland


NEW ORLEANS - On the downhill side of a one-week suspension handed to him for careless riding, leading Fair Grounds jockey Joe Talamo is champing at the bit, ready to swing back into action when his suspension is lifted Friday. And Talamo said Wednesday morning that when the Fair Grounds meet ends, he plans to leave his home state of Louisiana and try his luck under the bright lights of the Keeneland meet in April.

The time for a move hardly could be riper. Talamo turned 17 just last month, started race riding just last summer, and has never ridden outside Louisiana. Even so, he is the runaway leading rider at this meet - even after missing three days last week because of his penalty - and his apprentice weight allowance lasts until July. Talamo has made inroads into stables with a nationwide presence, riding for Bobby Frankel and a little recently for Steve Asmussen, while gaining traction with many outfits that ship to Kentucky in the spring. Talamo said his agent, Tony Martin, would make the move with him.

"My plan had been to go back to [Louisiana Downs]," said Talamo, who has been working horses every morning during his ban. "But I never thought I'd be doing this good here. At the beginning of the meet, you know, I thought I'd do okay, win some races, but this is just unbelievable."

Through Monday's card, Talamo had won 75 races, with Robby Albarado on 49 winners and Corey Lanerie at 46. Talamo has ridden 362 horses at the meet, 126 more than Albarado, but Talamo also has 70 second-place finishes to go with the win total.

Talamo, a native of the New Orleans area, is working toward a high school diploma through home-schooling, but said his time away from race riding "feels like being in prison.

"A week off, it really can mess with you physically," said Talamo, who as a natural lightweight doesn't worry about having to get back down to riding weight after time away.

Fair Grounds horsemen evidently have not forgotten young Talamo during his brief absence: He rides all 10 races Friday, and has mounts in 10 of Saturday's 11 races, including rides in all five stakes.

Flambeau Man going for new outfit

The Flambeau man is the torch carrier who lights the way for the nighttime carnival parades leading up to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Those parades begin Friday evening, but earlier in the day a horse named Flambeau Man will be looking to lead his own parade to the finish line in the fourth race at Fair Grounds. Flambeau Man has had a remarkable run at the current Fair Grounds meet, with four consecutive victories in claiming races for trainer Tom Amoss and apprentice jockey Joe Talamo. Trainer Gerald Averett won a four-way shake on Jan. 18 to claim the horse for $5,000 for his father, Gerald Averett Sr. Amoss, a seasoned veteran of the claiming game, praised Flambeau Man even after losing him.

"These are my favorite kind of horses," said Amoss. "I guess the word you hear used to describe them around the racetrack is 'cheaper,' but I really like a horse that tries so hard. I love a horse that tries every time like that."

Flambeau Man will be jumping up to a $12,000 claimer this time out.

"He might be in over his head a little," said Averett Sr. "There are three or four in there who look really tough. But he is a nice horse."

One thing Flambeau Man has going for him is the return of Talamo from his suspension. Talamo has a knack for producing Flambeau Man's late run at just the right time.

"I don't know if it's him or me," said Talamo, "but we get along just fine."

You can be sure local hunch players will be putting Flambeau Man into exactas with another horse in the race, King of Mardi Gras.

Purim's plans still open

When trainer Tom Proctor on Monday entered Purim in both the Mineshaft and the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, he knew that the multiple Grade 1 winner English Channel was expected to come for the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup. English Channel, it turned out, wasn't entered, but Proctor still hasn't decided in which race Purim will start Saturday.

"I'm just leaving the options open, and I don't want to close them yet," Proctor said Wednesday. "Either choice is going to be fine, and he's going to be tough in either race."

Purim has won 3 of 7 dirt starts and 4 of 8 on turf, so Proctor has a point. Most recently, Purim beat Fort Prado by a head in the Colonel Bradley Handicap on the Fair Grounds turf course. The FG BC drew a larger field than the Mineshaft - Bureaucratic also was entered in both spots - and may be a deeper race. The Mineshaft, however, could have a strong favorite in the Grade 2 winner Master Command.

Patriot Act may get pace he needs

Maybe Master Command will slip off to a clear early lead in the Mineshaft, but he at least is a confirmed front-runner, and that gives trainer Neil Howard some hope that Patriot Act could get an honest pace at which to run this weekend. That hasn't happened yet this meet for Patriot Act, who was favored to win both the Tenacious and Louisiana Breeders' Cup handicaps earlier this meet, but finished second in the Tenacious and third in the Louisiana BC after racing behind a false pace.

"I've been looking at the race quite a little bit, and it sets up to where he might have a little more pace this time," Howard said.

Howard said he typically focuses more on maintenance breezes than fast breezes once he has a horse on a regular racing pattern, but he has worked Patriot Act harder trying to sharpen him for the Mineshaft.

"I've kept his nose to the grindstone between races," Howard said.

Patriot Act worked a half-mile in company on Monday in 47.80 seconds, the fastest of 111 works at the distance.

Meanwhile, Howard's promising 4-year-old grass horse, Brilliant, wasn't far enough along to make Saturday's Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, but Brilliant is getting close to making his 2007 debut.

"In a perfect world, I'd like to get a race or two in him before we leave," Howard said.

- additional reporting by John Swenson