10/02/2007 11:00PM

Talamo ready to get back in hunt for title

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - In the last week, jockey Joe Talamo has learned that sitting on the sidelines is best avoided.

Talamo was to return from a three-day suspension on Thursday, having missed time after dropping an appeal of a riding infraction incurred at Del Mar earlier this year. The suspension left Talamo with more time on his hands than expected. While away from riding, he spent the mornings working horses and the afternoons playing Southern California tourist.

"I went to the beach to keep occupied," he said. "I went to Disneyland. You've got to stay busy."

And, he caught up on his high school work, which he is completing in a home-school format.

"I made a promise to my parents that I would stick with it," he said. School, Talamo said, "was never the fun part."

As a result of his absence, Talamo, 17, is farther down in the standings at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting than he is accustomed. After finishing second to Michael Baze at the Hollywood Park spring-summer and Del Mar meetings, Talamo was tied for eighth at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, with 2 wins from 14 mounts through Sunday. David Flores led all riders with 7 wins from 33 mounts.

Baze is in a similar situation as Talamo. He is serving six days of suspensions from the Del Mar meeting and is not scheduled to return to full-time riding until Wednesday. Baze, who has 3 wins from 21 mounts at this meeting, can ride in Sunday's three major stakes, which are exempt from routine suspensions.

Talamo did not watch racing much during his break in an attempt to avoid frustration, he said. He was not too pleased to watch horses he once rode win without him.

"It makes me kind of sick," he said. "There's not much you can do about it."

This weekend, Talamo's routine becomes normal again. On Friday, he has six mounts on the eight-race program, including Niagara Causeway in an optional claimer over 1 1/8 miles on turf and Freesgood in the featured $55,000 allowance race for statebreds over seven furlongs.

Saturday, he rides nine of the 10 races, including Artiste Royal in the $250,000 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship. Talamo is riding Artiste Royal for the first time. The 6-year-old Artiste Royal was third in the 2006 Clement Hirsch for now-retired trainer Laura de Seroux and is making his second start on Saturday for trainer Neil Drysdale.

By far, the highlight of Talamo's year has been the success of Nashoba's Key, the 4-year-old filly on which he has won four consecutive graded stakes. Last Saturday, Nashoba's Key won the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes, a prep to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.

"She is unbelievable," Talamo said. "She's a gift. She's one of those fillies that comes around once in a lifetime."

How would Talamo know? The teenager from Louisiana began riding last year. But the people around him, including Carla Gaines, the trainer of Nashoba's Key, have reminded him of the 4-year-old filly's ability.

"It's great to ride a filly like that," Talamo said. "Miss Carla said she's waited her whole career for a horse like that."

The Tin Man looks prohibitive

The Tin Man, the defending champion, will be a heavy favorite in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch. Trained by Richard Mandella, The Tin Man, 9, won the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park in May and was second in two subsequent starts - the Grade 2 American Handicap and Grade 1 Arlington Million.

The Hirsch, run over 1 1/4 miles on turf, has drawn a field of eight, but the only other 2007 stakes winner in the field is Runaway Dancer, the winner of the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 15.

Runaway Dancer was later second in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap, edging Spring House and Toasted, who are entered in the Hirsch.

Prepping on turf for Dirt Mile

The distance of Sunday's $250,000 Oak Tree Mile is more important to some owners and trainers than the surface over which it is run.

Lava Man, the leading handicap horse in California for the last two years, and Surf Cat, the winner of four stakes in his career, are probable starters, but are using the turf race as a prep to the new $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Monmouth Park on Oct. 26.

"Although it's turf, I want to get a mile," said Bruce Headley, who trains Surf Cat.

The Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile will be Surf Cat's first start on grass. He worked a half-mile on the surface in 47 seconds at Santa Anita on Wednesday.

Surf Cat has won 7 of 13 starts and $682,420 for Headley's wife, Aase, and Marsha Naify, the chairperson of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. They have had their patience tested by the 5-year-old Surf Cat, whose career has been interrupted more than once by minor injury.

This year, Surf Cat has finished second in two seven-furlong sprints, the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park in July and the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 19.

The mile will not be a problem. Surf Cat has won graded stakes at 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles.

"When it comes to going distances, he can do it all," Headley said.

Lava Man will go favored in the Oak Tree Mile, his first start on turf since finishing second to After Market in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park in July.

Sure Speed euthanized

Sure Speed was euthanized on Wednesday after suffering catastrophic injuries to her right foreleg in the second race.

Trained by Rafael Becerra, Sure Speed was pulled up early on the backstretch of a $50,000 allowance race over a 1 1/8 miles on turf. Sure Speed, 3, had won 3 of her first 5 starts and $141,000. Last weekend, Becerra said he wanted to use Wednesday's race as a prep to a California Cup race on Nov. 3.

Charming Legacy won the allowance race, leading throughout.