Jockey On A Fast Track

by Ed Meyer

posted on April 13, 2009 in General Discussion, Kentucky Derby | No Comments >>

Joe Talamo has been to the Kentucky Derby. Once.

He squeezed into historic Churchill Downs in 2005 as a 15-year-old. He watched grown men weep when “My Old Kentucky Home” was played before the Run for the Roses. He saw floppy Derby hats and mint juleps and a sea of humanity.

He saw the best Thoroughbreds and, of course, the best jockeys.

One day, young Joe Talamo thought to himself, wouldn’t it be neat to ride in America’s most famous horse race?

Talamo is still young — he’s just 19 — but he is on the verge of living out what is a far-fetched dream to most. On the first Saturday in May, Talamo will be sitting on a horse in the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby. Isn’t life grand?

Talamo will ride I Want Revenge in the Derby and, after the two teamed up to win the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct earlier this month, they have a legitimate shot indeed.

If Talamo can weave his way to the finish line first in the Derby, he will be one of the youngest riders ever to do it. Steve Cauthen was 18 when he won the Kentucky Derby with Affirmed in 1978; Ronnie Franklin was 19 when he won it with Spectacular Bid a year later.

Talamo doesn’t worry about age. He doesn’t worry about being unnerved when he and his horse go to the starting gate in front of 150,000 screaming people. He doesn’t worry about traffic, something that always happens when there are 20 horses in the same race.

He really doesn’t seem to worry about anything.

“His personality is different,” Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, who won the Derby twice in 17 tries, said from his home in Florida. Talamo ”is a footloose, fancy free, cocky kind of a kid and I mean that in a respectful way. This is his first Derby, but Stewart Elliott won on his first (in 2004 with Smarty Jones) and he rode that race like he rode it 100 times.”

Cauthen, who lives in northern Kentucky, said age should have nothing to do with the race if the rider knows what he is doing.

“He is in a situation similar to mine when I rode Affirmed,” Cauthen said. “He is confident in himself and he has the confidence of the people he is riding for. Can it be unnerving? Of course it can. But he has been around for someone as young as he is. It’s not like he just arrived.”

Talamo picked up the mount on I Want Revenge by pure luck. He was ridden in his first two races by Clinton Potts, but Potts had a commitment to trainer Bob Baffert on another horse.  Talamo got the call from Jeff Mullins, who trains I Want Revenge.

That was six races ago. They have been together ever since.