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Talamo gets his second chance
To anyone who thinks Sidney's Candy can be beat in the 136th Kentucky Derby next Saturday at Churchill Downs, jockey Joe Talamo has just one question:
This has been quite a year for Talamo. He appeared in the TV show "Jockeys." He went on the "Tonight" show during Conan O'Brien's brief stint. His beloved Saints, from Talamo's hometown of New Orleans, won the Super Bowl. "Who dat say gonna beat them Saints?" Uh, no one.
"I was stuck on the couch that day," Talamo said. "It was unbelievable. Words can't explain it. It was important for the whole city, especially after Katrina. My family back home sent me all kinds of Saints stuff, like 'Who dat?' shirts."
It's almost enough to help him forget last year's Kentucky Derby.
Talamo woke up the morning of the 2009 Derby riding the favorite, I Want Revenge. Then the nightmare began.
"When I think back, I'm still in shock," Talamo said this past week at Santa Anita. "To this day, I don't think it ever really sank in. It was like a bad nightmare come true. When I heard the news, I couldn't believe it."
The news was that I Want Revenge was scratched.
"I didn't have any emotions," Talamo said. "I was sad, devastated, all combined into one."
:: DERBY WATCH: (PDF)
So the opportunity to ride in the Kentucky Derby for the first time was postponed for at least a year. Talamo sat in the stands, with his family and friends, and watched the 19 other horses and jockeys parade onto the track to the strains of "My Old Kentucky Home." Not once, Talamo said, did he regret not being out there.
"I never let myself think that," he said. "I had a great time. I tried to made a positive out of a negative situation. If he ran in the race, there's no telling what could have happened. Better they found what was wrong in the stall rather than out on the track. There's no future in the past. With horse racing, you have to keep going with the flow."
That good karma may be about to pay off. Talamo is aboard of the top contenders in this year's Derby. Sidney's Candy comes off three straight stakes wins at Santa Anita, highlighted by the Santa Anita Derby three weeks ago. Talamo has been aboard Sidney's Candy for all six of his races, four of which were wins. Their biggest challenge comes on May 1. It's not quite revenge that Talamo wants. But it surely is a sweet opportunity.
"It's been an amazing year, start to finish, from the Derby last year to the Derby this year," Talamo said. "I've only been riding
3 1/2 years. Just to be in this position, I'm so blessed, so fortunate."
Talamo is 20 going on 45. To those around him on a regular basis, he is polite to a fault, and always upbeat. "You can tell he was raised right," said John Sadler, the trainer of Sidney's Candy. "Obviously he's got great manners."
Yet to those who only know Talamo through the way he was portrayed on the alleged reality show "Jockeys" on Animal Planet, the mistaken impression might be that Talamo is a bit of a punk. That could not be further from the truth.
"They wanted me to be the cocky bad guy," Talamo said. "I'm laid-back. We all had a good time doing it. It was good for racing. I'm no actor by far. Sometimes it got to be a little bit of a soap opera. Some of it was staged. That's TV. But I had fun with it."
It was around the time that "Jockeys" was not being renewed last year, following two seasons, that Talamo began working an unraced Candy Ride colt for Sadler.
"I like him because he obviously gets run out of horses, gives them a chance to win, and he's getting stronger," Sadler said. "He's good at following instructions. If you ask him to do something, he follows."
Talamo is a tireless worker. When the racing was at Santa Anita, he often breezed several horses first thing in the morning at Hollywood Park, then hustled back across town to work more horses later in the morning at Santa Anita; he reverses the schedule now that Hollywood Park is racing. He worked Sidney's Candy before his first race at Del Mar last summer, and was instantly smitten.
"He was push-button back then," Talamo said. "You'd smooch to him, and he'd take off. He was the kind of horse a jockey looks for. He finished second first time out, then the second time, he blew the field away. When he came back in December, he was a more mature horse. It was all to his advantage having that time off."
Since a surprisingly poor comeback race in December, Sidney's Candy has been on a roll. He won the San Vicente going seven furlongs, then the San Felipe at 1 1/16 miles, then the Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles. Still, it's a long run in. Not the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby. Just the week ahead, as Talamo knows only too well.
"I'm trying to stay even throughout," Talamo said. "So many things can happen. There's so many ups and downs. I just want to take everything in and enjoy the moment. After last year, I never dreamt I'd be back."
Talamo says his Derby dreams began in 1998, when a fellow Louisiana native, Kent Desormeaux, won the Derby on Real Quiet.
"That's the first one that I can remember," Talamos said. "I was 8 years old. There's a famous picture of Desormeaux standing up right at the wire, with all the emotion on his face. I get goosebumps thinking of it. Every Derby after that, I vividly watched. It's the most exciting race of the year."
Even more so, Talamo is likely to find out, if you're in it.
Slots-infused purses. Horses such as Endorsement and Rule (above) were cleverly managed to take advantage of the Kentucky Derby's graded stakes earnings requirement by looking for races that might not have been prestigious in name but were lucrative in terms of cash. As a result, they are in the Derby field.
Traditional preps. As of mid-week, one week before entries were to be taken for the Derby, the second-place finishers in the Wood Memorial, Florida Derby, and Santa Anita Derby did not have enough graded stakes earnings to make the top 20.
ON THE BUBBLE
Jackson Bend, the Wood Memorial runner-up, would be the first to move into the top 20 should anyone above him drop out between now and entry day. But he could be leapfrogged by Pleasant Prince, the Florida Derby runner-up, who is scheduled to run on Saturday in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs. Eightyfiveinafifty is also in the Derby Trial, and also could move into the top 20 at the expense of Jackson Bend. Setsuko, the second-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby, is further down the earnings list and is extremely unlikely to get in, even though trainer Richard Mandella desperately wants to run.