11/09/2007 1:00AM

Talamo heading to Japan, thanks to Artiste Royal

EmailINGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jockey Joe Talamo, the leading contender for the Eclipse Award as the outstanding apprentice jockey of 2007, is going international for the first time later this month.

Talamo has been booked to ride Artiste Royal in the Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse on Nov. 25. For Talamo, 17, a native of New Orleans, it will be his first trip outside the United States.

Talamo said he had thought about going to Dubai some day, but never to Japan.

"I'm really excited," he said.

Talamo rode Artiste Royal to a victory in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting on Oct. 26. The Clement Hirsch was Artiste Royal's first stakes win in the United States and the first time that Talamo had ridden the 6-year-old, who is owned by Dave and Jill Heerensperger and trained by Neil Drysdale.

Drysdale has never won the Japan Cup, which is run over 1 1/2 miles on turf, but came close in 2002 when Sarafan finished a nose behind the winner, Falbrav.

Talamo is booked to ride at Hollywood Park through Nov. 21, travel to Japan on Nov. 22, and return in time to ride part of the Nov. 25 program, according to his agent, Ron Ebanks.

Ebanks, who will accompany Talamo on the trip, said that Talamo will ride Unusual Suspect in the $500,000 Hollywood Derby on Nov. 25, which will be run approximately 18 hours after the Japan Cup.

Talamo had an excellent Oak Tree meeting, leading all jockeys with five stakes wins and finishing third in the standings with 20 wins.

Derby in Unusual Suspect's sights

Trainer Barry Abrams did not list Unusual Suspect as a candidate for the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Derby after he won the California Cup Mile at the Oak Tree meeting on Nov. 3, but the trainer has changed his mind.

After the Cal Cup Mile, Abrams questioned whether Unusual Suspect was capable of winning beyond a mile, but he said he has run out of alternatives in the near future.

"I didn't know where else to run," Abrams said.

Unusual Suspect has won 5 of 18 starts and $379,136. He was fourth in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby in September and the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby in October. In both cases, he faded from contention in the final furlong, which left Abarams discouraged.

"We had to get him out of the gate to take a position," Abrams said.

Abrams said that a different tactic may help the Unusual Heat colt get the distance.

"We'll try to take him back and make one run," Abrams said. "I don't know if he can go that far."

The Grade 1 Hollywood Derby is expected to draw a strong field, including Bold Hawk, Daytona, Karazi, Medici Code, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Warning Zone, and Worldly.

New race week at Santa Anita?

Santa Anita will ask the California Horse Racing Board later this month for permission to add Monday racing and drop racing on Wednesdays on a weekly basis during its upcoming winter-spring meeting, which begins on Dec. 26, track president Ron Charles said Friday.

Charles said the decision to shift racing dates is being done as an attempt to boost weekday business.

"We've done everything we could on Wednesdays and Thursdays," he said. "No matter what type of promotion or plan we do it just doesn't seem to be working.

"We've been really successful with attendance on weekends, but we can't move those numbers doing the middle of the week. It's indicative of all California racetracks having mid-week slumps. I think it's time to try it, and shake things up and try something different. It's hard for me to sit here and not try something."

Charles said that Santa Anita would offer free general admission on Mondays, a promotion that will begin with the first Monday of the meeting, Dec. 31.

The move to a Thursday-through-Monday racing week is a shift from the decades-long policy of racing on Wednesdays through Sundays.

The move is part of Santa Anita's application for a race meeting that will be presented to the racing board on Nov. 29.

Air Commander returns

Air Commander, second in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in March, makes his first start in nearly eight months in a $54,000 allowance race over 1 1/8 miles against older horses in Sunday's third race at Hollywood Park.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Air Commander was considered a candidate for the Triple Crown last spring, but has not started since finishing two lengths behind Cobalt Blue in the San Felipe.

Air Commander has won 2 of 5 starts. He has five rivals in Sunday's third race, including Rocket Legs, a late-developing Dynaformer colt.

Owned by Alex Campbell Jr. and trained by Todd Pletcher, Rocket Legs needed six races to beat maidens, eventually doing so in a race over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 22. He returned to win an allowance race over 1 3/16 miles on Keeneland's Polytrack surface on Oct. 13, his first start away from turf.

Prep wanted for Celtic Dreamin

Celtic Dreamin, second in the California Cup Classic on Nov. 3, is being pointed for the $1omillion Sunshine Millions Classic for California-breds and Florida-breds on Jan. 26, trainer Rafael Becerra said earlier this week.

Celtic Dreamin, 3, suffered the second defeat of his seven-race career when finishing a half-length behind Bold Chieftain in the Cal Cup Classic.

Becerra he would like to give Celtic Dreamin a start in an allowance race before the Sunshine Millions Classic, and said that the $100,000 On Trust Handicap at 7 1/2 furlongs for statebreds at Hollywood Park on Dec. 22 was "too short."

"I'd like to keep him at two turns," he said.

Owned by K.K. Sengara, Celtic Dreamin has won 5 of 7 starts and $319,583. He was claimed for $40,000 when he won his debut at Santa Anita in April.