In a generation where, in an effort to gross you out and appear cool, kids have every bodily orifice pierced but their eyeballs, including booger-type pins from their noses; when they randomly drop f-bombs in public with impunity; and their vocabulary consists of "Dude, like, you know, um, and basically," Joe Talamo is a throwback.
Talamo is the best young jockey in California, a state replete with riders of burgeoning talent. He also is the epitome of an old school Southern gentleman. He refers to Carla Gaines as "Miss Carla," and Bobby Frankel as "Mr. Bobby." You don’t cultivate that kind of respect by watching "The View."
Talamo was born in a little burg in Louisiana called Marrero, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. He knew early on that he wanted to be a jockey. He watched replays of races from the Fair Grounds sitting on an arm of the family couch, flailing away with a riding crop, as his mother winced in dismay.
"When I was 8 years old, I told them I wanted to be a jockey, and they kind of laughed, like ‘OK,’" Talamo said of his parents. "When I was 16, they’re like, ‘Man, he was really serious about it.’ You just have to follow your dreams and stick to it."
And so he did. In 2007, at the tender age of 17, he won 249 races and was named the nation’s outstanding apprentice rider. He became the first ‘bug’ rider to win a pair of Grade I races on the same program, riding Nashoba’s Key to victory in the Vanity and Bilo to victory in Triple Bend at Hollywood Park.
Fast forward to 2009, where in the Santa Anita standings, he is fourth with a bullet behind top guns Garrett Gomez, Rafael Bejarano and Joel Rosario. Talamo won three races Saturday, including the Grade I Santa Maria Handicap on 13-1 outsider Santa Teresita.
"It’s very tough with Bejarano, Gomez and Rosario," Talamo said. "To be in the top 10 is great. To be in the top five is even better. I’m still young and still have a lot to learn. I’m just going to keep working hard and hope for the best. I just turned 19 on Jan. 12.
"I’ve been so fortunate with so many good people supporting me and so many owners and trainers giving me an opportunity. It makes you so grateful that you have people like that behind you."
Talamo also is grateful to have an agent like Scott McClellan behind him. An agent since 1972, McClellan took over last year after Talamo unexpectedly fired Ron Ebanks, who brought him to California at the behest of Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.
"Joe is easy to work for," said McClellan, whose long and glorious career with Chris McCarron is the stuff of legend. "He never questions anything. If you have a horse for him to work, he’s there. He’s usually out seven mornings a week. He’s ready to work, he wants to ride and he’s happy to ride.
"He’s ridden a lot for (Patrick) Biancone. We’ve only had one win, but it was in the (Grade II) San Fernando Stakes. Biancone’s been helping him a lot with his riding and I really see the difference. The last few weeks, he’s been riding phenomenal.
"Joe’s got a great personality, he’s very energetic and he has a very positive attitude. If a trainer takes him off, he takes it in stride. He’s just a super kid and he’s very talented. He’s tremendous out of the gate. He breaks on the lead almost every race, and then he might let the horse settle. But for whatever reason--maybe it’s his youth--he’s quick. He just seems to beat the gate all the time."
Says Biancone: "Joe is young and a good rider. I like to have a rider available to my barn on a consistent basis. That’s the way we like to work. He’s a great kid. My clients like him."
Talamo would be the first to acknowledge he has gleaned much from McClellan’s learned and steady hand, in addition to his parents, Joe Jr. and Joy. "If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I’d be here, especially my father," Talamo said. "They supported me 100 percent."
"I’ve had so many good riders, and they had their own special attributes," McClellan said. "(Alex) Solis is a great rider; McCarron was a great rider; Darrel McHargue; Corey Black as an apprentice; Marco Castaneda; Fernando Toro. They had different styles and different work ethics and different personalities, but Joe is a great kid who has no problem trying to learn or asking someone to help him. He’s got a great future, he really does."
• Bobby Frankel, who sold Triple Crown contender Vineyard Haven to Godolphin for a reported $12 million after two Grade I wins as a 2-year-old last year, cautions not to give up on the colt’s Kentucky Derby chances just because he finished a non-threatening fourth in his 3-year-old debut in Dubai last Friday. "He probably got tired," Frankel said. "He’ll be fine."
• Despite endorsing Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride main track by calling it "the best (synthetic) I’ve seen" before the meet began last Dec. 26, and giving it a thumbs up almost two months into it, Frankel does not view synthetics as a panacea. "I think they should have something in California where you can run on dirt. We’re stuck out here. If a horse doesn’t like the synthetic or grass, you have to go back east."
• Steve Knapp, who once trained as many as 18 horses for owners Jim and Marcia Equils, was down to zero for his principal client last week. "Jim makes his money in the stock market, but with the economy the way it is, right now he’s out of action in the horse business," Knapp said. "But he’ll be back."
• Brett Favre announces his retirement. (This is a recording).