He’s just 24-years-old and already one of the most recognizable faces on the Southern California racing circuit. Joe Talamo has won a Breeder’s Cup race (California Flag, 2009 Turf Sprint) and a Santa Anita Derby (Sidney’s Candy, 2010). When he won the Wood Memorial in 2009 aboard I Want Revenge, it looked as if Talamo had a real shot at winning a Kentucky Derby in just his third year of riding. But then, the unthinkable happened – I Want Revenge was scratched on the morning of the Derby with an ankle injury. Talamo was devastated but tried to not let it show. In this edition of Jockey Journals, Talamo talks about overcoming that disappointment and some of the keys to him becoming one of the most consistent jockeys in North America. He also discusses the unique relationship he has with fans on social media and even answers a few questions sent in via Twitter to Danonymous Racing!
Born To Ride
I grew up in New Orleans, LA, and we pretty much always had horses in our backyard. My dad was also an assistant trainer at the Fairgrounds. So, as a kid at six, seven or eight years old, he would always take me out there on weekends. I kind of fell in love with the game at an early age. I always did ride horses. I even had a pony when I was three or four years old, so I really started riding at a very young age. I started galloping racehorses at 11-years-old at a farm close to my house and I did that until I started racing at 16 at Louisiana Downs.
I loved it out there. I grew up going there as a kid, so it was pretty cool to start there. I think it helped a lot because I knew a lot of the trainers and owners there. They gave me a lot of good opportunities at first and I couldn’t believe the success I had. Some of my heroes growing up, like Robby Albarado and a lot of those guys, were at the Fairgrounds. When I beat all of them for leading rider, it was unbelievable and the highlight of my career at the time. To grow up going there as a kid and for that to happen, it was a lot of fun. Winning the Eclipse Award too was pretty remarkable. It’s funny looking back because it was kind of like a whirlwind. All of those things happened so fast and it was crazy how I did all of that so early. But I think I was really lucky early on to just get on some good horses and have some great opportunities.
Sunshine or Snowstorms?
Bobby Frankel had a string at the Fairgrounds that I rode for him and his assistant trainer there, Scott Hansen. Bobby wanted me to come out to California and ride out here when the Fairgrounds meet was over with. But at the time, I was supposed to go to New York and ride for Rick Dutrow and a couple of other trainers. Well, I came out to California in April, the weather was like 80 degrees, it was absolutely gorgeous. I rode out here for a few days, did real well and then I went back to New York, where it was snowing! I stayed in New York for a few days and then said, ‘I’m moving back to California’. I got really fortunate that as soon as I moved to California, I got a lot of good opportunities and everything started moving forward.
From Glory to Gut Shot
I Want Revenge was definitely the biggest high and the biggest low of my career. I am kind of glad it actually happened at such a young age because nothing really surprises me anymore (laughs). Aside from the Breeder’s Cup, winning the Wood Memorial with I Want Revenge was one of my favorite races. He broke real slow, was last about 10 to 15 lengths, and then to win – that was just an incredible race. To get a Derby horse of that caliber at such a young age (Talamo was 19 at the time), it was just amazing. It was just so much fun and everyone was on a real high on Derby week. Then, when we heard he scratched, I was in shock. It never really sunk in, to be honest with you. When you hear something like that, you really don’t want to believe it. To this day, it’s hard to believe.
I really don’t think about it anymore. From day to day, I try to put the day before behind me and just keep moving forward. Every now and then, I do think about it because there were a lot of fun memories with the owners and with Jeff Mullins (I Want Revenge’s trainer). But it’s so hard to think about it, that I’d rather not think about it, to be honest. I really do have to give credit to Jeff and David Lanzman, the owner, for really keeping me on the horse. That was only my second full year riding. I was very inexperienced and still learning a lot. I mean, they kept me on all the way to the Kentucky Derby. So, I really respect them for that.
What happens all of the time, with good horses that you like, is that you’ll either get taken off or they get hurt. So, like I said, I’m kind of glad that I learned at an early age not to dwell on it but to just turn the page and keep moving forward. I was really fortunate that the very next year, we went back to the Kentucky Derby with Sidney’s Candy. So, that was pretty fun to just get back there and ride in it.
A Dose of Reality… TV
I thought the “Jockeys” (Animal Planet TV show, which featured Talamo and several other California-based jockeys) was really great. For me, the first season was fun. But the second season, you know when you get followed around with a camera every day – some people might love it – but I didn’t really care for it. At the racetrack, I’ll do any interview and talk to anybody. But after that, I want to get home, chill out and relax. So, it kind of got old after a while but obviously we still did it just for the good of the sport. I thought it did have a great presence and, it’s funny, I didn’t even realize how many fans of the show there were. Still until today, I get people who tell me, “I watched you on Jockeys.” And I’m like, man, I thought only like 10 people watched that show (jokingly). But seriously, I’m really glad that a lot of people watched it. For me, it wasn’t about being on TV. It was really all about promoting the sport. In my mind, if we could get 10 people to come out to the track who had never been before, that was a slam dunk (to do the show).
I think we still need to get a much younger crowd out to the track. I’m not sure exactly what they can do. But, honestly, something needs to be done. At Santa Anita, Keith Brackpool (Chairman of the California Horse Racing Board) is doing a great job. They’re doing a lot of renovations in the grandstand, which are really nice. They’re building new suites, which weren’t there before. So, they’re really doing some great things. It’s already first class and this will make it even better.
Nationwide, the crowds have gotten smaller because you can just sit at home and gamble on your TV and phone accounts. You really don’t have to go out to the track. But, obviously, the track makes more money when people come out and it feels good too. I remember on closing day at Hollywood Park a few Sunday’s ago, there were like 20,000 people out there. It felt like a Breeder’s Cup day. The vibe was great, everyone was having such a good time and there were just so many people there. I wish it was like that every day.
Smokin’ Joe’s Greatest Hits
There were so many good races. I know when I won my first Grade 1 with Nashoba’s Key (2007 Vanity Handicap) when I had the bug, that was pretty cool. Sidney’s Candy, when I won the Santa Anita Derby, that was another one. The Wood Memorial and Breeder’s Cup were amazing. I’d say those would be my top four. I’d still like to try and win the Kentucky Derby. I think that’s first on everybody’s list.
I’ve set the same goals for a while – just to try and stay healthy and win as many races as I can. For one thing, we don’t have as many horses out here anymore. It’s really tough. There are a lot of jockeys out here and we’re all pretty much fighting for that number one spot. So, for me, it’s really just a day by day thing. I’m trying to go out there, prepare as hard as I can and ride as hard as I can.
TWITTER QUESTIONS FOR JOE TALAMO — SENT IN TO @DANONYMOUSMAN
As a young rider in SoCal, how memorable will the last at Hollywood be?
JT: It was pretty sad to see it close because of all of the history there. As I said, the last day there was unbelievable with how many people were there and just the vibe in the air. It really felt like a big day and I kind of wish it was like that all of the time. It would probably still be open if it was always like that.
From: Victor Reyes
Ask him what he thinks about his mom being more Twitter famous than he is. haha! @Trackmoms
JT: I love it! It takes all of the stress off of my life. I think she kind of just found it on her own. She’s more into the news you find on social media than I am. So, when someone bashes me (laughs), she’s the first one to find out about it. I’ve always told her never to look at that stuff, you know, because I get hate mail all of the time. But that means you’ve made it, once you start to get hated on like that. That’s how I look at it.
There’s even a oft-used hash tag on Twitter, #IHateJoeTalamo. It’s usually used in a playful manner but not always.
JT: I love it. That was funny stuff, funny stuff (laughs). That might be my favorite one. I’ve seen a lot of hate tweets, you know. But I just kill them with kindness and it always comes out pretty good in the end. But I do respect their opinion. They’re putting their money up, they’ve got freedom of speech and they could tell me whatever they want.
From: Ryan Patterson
I’d love to hear Joe’s answer to the question of how he keeps his confidence up and what motivates him more than anything else.
JT: I just love the sport and I count my blessings every day just be here. I left school in the 10th grade to be a jockey and I never thought I’d be this successful. I just wanted to ride horses. So, for me, every day is not even like a job. I just go out there and have fun. What motivates me is just trying to win. Whether is a $10,000 claimer, an allowance or a stakes race, I don’t care what it is, I want to try and win it. I think that’s what kind of keeps me going, it’s what gets me to wake up at five every morning – that motivation to try and win every day.
The Jockey Journal above was transcribed from an interview with DanonymousRacing.com and solely reflects the words and thoughts of Joe Talamo. We thank Joe for sharing so much about himself in Jockey Journals and wish him continued success. If you’d like to learn more about him, you can follow him on Twitter, @JoeTalamo!