The Southern California invasion is underway at Oaklawn and among the big names already on the grounds in advance of the Jan. 24 opening is jockey Joe Talamo.
Talamo’s resume includes an Eclipse Award as the country’s top apprentice jockey in 2007, a Breeders’ Cup triumph in 2009 and 2,003 victories and more than $100 million in purse earnings in his career through Tuesday, with the bulk of that success coming in Southern California, where he rode regularly for more than a decade before announcing in November that he was relocating to the Midwest.
“It was a big decision,” Talamo said during training hours Monday morning. “At the same time, I think there’s a lot more opportunity out here, as far as riding more and possibly winning more, hopefully. It was a hard decision, but kind of an easy one at the same time.”
Talamo had more than 1,000 mounts annually in 2007-2014, including a career-high 1,472 in 2007 and 1,247 in 2013. But mirroring the shrinking horse population in Southern California, and an accompanying decline in field sizes, Talamo rode only 547 horses last year, fewest since his first year to ride professionally in 2006.
“I just turned 30, so I know I’m getting older, but I still feel like I have a lot of good years left in me,” said Talamo, who grew up in suburban New Orleans. “And again, it’s nobody’s fault, really. The horse population out there just, every year, seems to kind of dwindle down a little more and more. Like I said, I still feel like I have lot more in the tank, so I felt like making the move out here would keep the momentum going.
“The way things are out here, the purse money is incredible. The horse population is incredible. Everything seems in growth mode right now. I thought if there is a time to do it, I thought it would definitely be a good time.”
No winter racing venue in the country has higher purses than Oaklawn and purses are also skyrocketing in Kentucky, where Talamo said he plans to be based the remainder of the year. Talamo said his family is also now in Hot Springs. The jockey is married to the former Elizabeth Ellis, the daughter of Southern California-based trainer Ron Ellis, and has two young children.
“It’s pretty much a 100 percent move,” Talamo said. “I kept my house in California, just to rent it out. We’re in with both feet, pretty much. I would love to buy a house in Hot Springs. When we get to Kentucky, we’ll look for a house and that’s pretty much going to be the circuit – Oaklawn and then Kentucky after that.”
High-percentage trainer Brad Cox is expected to be one of Talamo’s biggest clients at Oaklawn, but the jockey said he won’t be choosey, particularly when it comes to volume, adding he has been working horses “for a little bit of everyone” since arriving Jan. 6 in Hot Springs.
“The more the merrier, absolutely,” Talamo said. “Trust me, I’m one of those guys that if it’s a $5,000 claimer or a $1 million race, I’m going out there with the same mindset – just try and win.”
Talamo’s new agent is Jake Romans, the son of nationally prominent trainer Dale Romans. The jockey has had only six career mounts in Hot Springs.
“I’m just excited for something new,” Talamo said. “Change can be good.”
Other jockeys with strong Southern California roots scheduled to ride at the 2020 Oaklawn meet are Martin Garcia and Tyler Baze. Southern California-based trainers John Sadler, Peter Miller and Phil D’Amato had horses on the grounds Wednesday morning. Sadler had 21 horses arrive in Hot Springs Tuesday. Horses for another Southern California-based trainer, Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, were being flown to Arkansas Wednesday.
“I think there’s five or six guys from California with strings here and I’ve been in touch with them,” Talamo said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll ride a little bit for them. But again, hopefully, we can spread the wealth out. I’ll ride a little bit for everybody and hopefully win a little bit for everyone.”