Joe Talamo was eight hours from possible racing immortality when he heard the news: I Want Revenge, his mount in the Kentucky Derby and the 3-1 morning line favorite, was injured and would not run.
Even a seasoned veteran would have been devastated, but Talamo, just 19 and with less than three years experience under his belt, took it in stride after the initial shock sunk in that indeed, he would not be riding in his first Kentucky Derby. Credit a stable emotional outlook gleaned through a solid upbringing from his parents, and later, tutoring and guidance in life’s proper values from his two agents, first Ron Ebanks and currently Scott McClellan.
"What happened shows the highs and lows of racing," Talamo said in recounting the surreal saga that cost him his Derby ride and any chance of victory. "The whole thing was like a dream. When I woke up Monday after the Derby, it was like, ‘Did I really go through all of that?’ It was weird."
Weird and then some. Until news of the scratch, it was pretty much party time for Team I Want Revenge, which included co-owner David Lanzman, trainer Jeff Mullins, and, of course, young Joe Talamo.
"I was fortunate to be staying with Mr. Lanzman, and what a classy guy he is," Talamo said. "He rented two mansions in Louisville and had all the friends he grew up with there. We had so much fun. We had a blast all week. The horse was going into the race super. He had worked unbelievable.
"Saturday morning around 7:30, I was walking down the stairs of the mansion, all dressed up, going to the track, and I was excited. You know me, upbeat all the time … I was so confident, I woke up before my alarm went off. I was ready to go.
"Earlier, Jerry Bailey had taken me to the (Kentucky Derby) Museum of Racing, and showed me about 20 films of the Derby, explaining what I should do in certain situations if they came up during the race. It was incredible. When I got down the stairs Saturday morning, (clocker) Bruno DeJulio was there, and I began telling him how I was going to ride the race, sit off the pace, buh, buh, buh, and he’s like, ‘Oh, you didn’t hear what happened?’
"Before he could say anything else, I said, ‘Come on; you’re kidding. You’re joking, right?’ He said, ‘No. Sit down. You’re scratched.’ I didn’t know what to do. I was in shock. We had so much fun from all the good things that happened during the week. He couldn’t make that up, right?
"Sure enough, I went to the barn to see I Want Revenge, and what really made me sad was being in the stall, me and him, for five minutes, just petting him. I could tell by the look in his eye he was ready to run. He knew it was time to run, but he couldn’t because of his ankle."
I Want Revenge had soreness and minor swelling in his left front ankle, necessitating his being scratched from the Derby. Currently, the son of Stephen Got Even is recuperating at a Kentucky farm. He could be out two months or longer.
Talamo credits his parents and his peers for his Dale Carnegie philosophy. "The No. 1 thing they’ve always told me is to be positive, despite the hand you’re dealt," Talamo said. "Just being around good people has taught me to try and turn a negative into a positive, and throughout my career, I’ve tried to do that, and it’s really helped me through some low periods.
"This is how the game is, but I look in the bright side. It could have been worse. If my colt had been hurt on the track, he could have gone down. God forbid, if it would have happened in the Derby, two years in a row (referring to the filly Eight Belles, who was euthanized after suffering two fractures following her second-place finish to Big Brown in 2008), racing would have been devastated. I’m just glad I Want Revenge is all right."
The worst over, Talamo remained at Churchill Downs for the day’s races. "I’m a big fan of the sport, so I didn’t leave," he said. "I watched all the races, and Mine That Bird was unbelievable. I thought Pioneerof the Nile was a cinch at the 3/8 pole. Then I said, ‘Who’s that coming?’ Of all the jockeys that could have won, I was so happy for Calvin (Borel), especially since he’s from Louisiana, like me. Not only that, but he’s such a down-to-earth guy. He’s never forgotten where he came from. He still has that big Cajun accent. He loves everybody. He gave everybody a hug after the race, even people he didn’t know."
Just like Talamo would have done.
• Bob Baffert is hoping a fast track will make a difference for Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile in the Preakness. "In the Derby, the (sloppy) track was drying out and getting a little sticky," Baffert said. "When Calvin Borel (on eventual winner Mine That Bird) got cut off at the start, he decided to drop back and rode to get a piece of it, and he ended up getting it all. Mine That Bird is still a nice horse, but I guess we won’t know (if he’s for real) until the next one." Asked about surprise Preakness starter Rachel Alexandra, who won the Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths, Baffert said, "She’s a really good filly, but it’s a little different (running) against the boys."
• Preakness picks: Mine That Bird (who are you going to believe, me or your eyes?), Rachel Alexandra and Pioneerof the Nile.
• Here’s something that may have never happened before and might never happen again: In the Phillies’ 7-5 loss to the Mets last Thursday, the Phils had 35 at bats and no player – not even Ryan Howard – struck out.
• Latest word is that Brett Favre has decided against another comeback. He’s afraid he’ll trip over his beard.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Ed Golden