11/26/2010 3:29PM

Talamo's work ethic matches his appetite

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BENOIT PHOTO
Joe Talamo has worked hard to regain business after missing nearly two months recuperating from a broken wrist sustained in a fall at Del Mar.

Thanksgiving isn’t exactly a jockey’s favorite holiday. Their relationship to food in large quantities is, by the nature of their profession, conflicted. In their dreams, they might hear themselves say something like, “Yes, more gravy would be lovely.” But in the real world, there usually is a steep price to pay.

Then there are those lucky few, like that Louisiana boy Joe Talamo, who could indulge in all the Thanksgiving trimmings without a flinch, stuffing themselves with stuffing, then arise Friday morning with a clean conscience and a healthy appetite for leftovers.

“Thanksgiving was always a big day in my family,” Talamo confirmed. “Back home, you’d go to the Fair Grounds for opening day, then go home and have a big dinner.”

Before the feast this week, Talamo celebrated Thanksgiving at Hollywood Park with a victory aboard 7-year-old Cost of Freedom in the Vernon O. Underwood. For an encore, the rider was looking at live mounts on Friday in the Matriarch (Lilly Fa Pootz) and on Saturday in the Citation (Bruce’s Dream) before capping the holiday weekend with the French colt Blue Panis in the $250,000 Hollywood Derby.

Such opportunities should be par for the course for a 20-year-old star on the rise, and anything less would require an explanation. Still, for Talamo to have restored a healthy portion of his business after missing nearly two months at the heart of the 2010 season with a broken wrist is a tribute to both his relentless enthusiasm and the work of his agent, Scotty McClellan.

“To be honest, when I came back I worked as hard as I ever worked – even harder than when I was a bug boy,” Talamo said Friday morning. “I was on 10, 15 horses a morning. I like to think that made a difference, because I was really getting in some good barns.”

MORE BY JAY HOVDEY: Bruce's Dream has plenty to prove in Citation

It’s an old story around the racetrack. Disappear for a day and the will cut you some slack. But go missing for a condition book and you might as well have been kidnapped by a cartel. Among the mounts Talamo lost when he landed hard on the Del Mar turf Aug. 5 were major stakes winners J.P.’s Gusto, Champ Pegasus, and Sidney’s Candy, as well as the likely mount on the latest California 2-year-old sensation, Turbulent Descent.

“I was on her for her first three-eighths the day before I got hurt,” Talamo said. “But that’s part of the game. You have to learn to deal with adversity. And I got lucky with the broken bone – it was only a hairline fracture.”

Talamo knows he’s also lucky with his weight, although he is not above wandering into the hot box with a sandwich now and then, savoring a few bites while heavier riders sit sweating off stubborn ounces. In Talamo’s defense, he is not the first natural lightweight to flaunt it.

“I hear Shoemaker used to do the same thing,” Talamo said with sheepish pride. “I do 112 stripped. I used to be 109, 110, but thanks to Mike Smith I put on about three pounds of muscle.”

Smith, the Hall of Fame fitness nut, is one of those guys who can crack a walnut flexing a bicep. Only the truly committed can stay with him in the gym.

“He’s too much of a freak for me,” Talamo said. “He can bench 270. I’m more in the 160, 170 range. But working out a lot has helped me. I can definitely feel it down the lane, and just feeling good in general. I think horse racing’s more of a mental game than physical anyway, with all the ups and downs, and if your body’s good your mind will follow.”

As for dietary secrets, don’t bother asking Joe.

“I’m a ‘see-food’ eater – whatever I see I eat,” Talamo said. “But I’m only 20, so my metabolism is high, I know that. And I do eat in moderation, but I can have three, four meals a day and not worry about weight.”

The eight 3-year-olds in Sunday’s Hollywood Derby all carry 122 pounds, which is a stern enough test going the 1 1/4 miles on the grass. It is also a wide-open affair this year, with three of the first four coming out of their blanket finish in the nine-furlong Oak Tree Derby, Oct. 16.

Blue Panis, making his first start in the U.S., finished second that day, beaten a head by the longshot Fantastic Pick. At that point, Blue Panis already had a 14-race career in the books, with a pair of listed stakes and group race placings to his credit. He gets his name from his sire Panis, by Miswaki, and the Bering mare Rhapsody in Blue.

Panis, in turn, was named for the French Formula One racecar driver Olivier Panis. From the department of what goes around, Panis is out of a mare by Doonesbury, a top-class California colt of 30 years ago who won races like the Malibu as a late 3-year-old and the San Fernando at age 4.

Once McClellan landed the mount, Talamo hit the film room to watch Blue Panis in action. The jockey was encouraged by trainer Fabrice Chappet to let the colt strut his free-running style, which is usually a hard way to make a living in European circles.

“He told me to just go to the lead like he‘d been doing,” Talamo said. “I knew he'd have to go faster over here than he ever had before. But he really relaxed for me, got out there and put his ears right up. He didn’t have a real big turn of foot, so my thinking was to try and open up on them at some point, and he really did. Fantastic Pick ran a big race to catch him.

“With that big, even stride of his, I really think going longer will help him,” Talamo added. “If they don’t press him real hard, he should be tough.”