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TrackNotes: The Harlem Ave. Exit

Joe Tala-Who? Joe Talamo. That's who.

On this week's Jockeys, we get a full dose of The Kid. The ups, the downs, the Jockeys version of an intervention, the hope for the future. This episode seems the most staged, the most manipulated, the most heavily edited. Things out of order or left out completely. I'll inject (RSA) - for Reality Show Alert - when I think the reality has been manipulated in some way.

Young Joe is in a slump and in the first three races today, he'll try to break out.

Race 1: Right out of the gate, Talamo and his two-year-old maiden, the No. 2 horse, do an exit, stage right, and then veer severely left in corrective mode. Clipping heels with the No. 1, it's a miracle there wasn't a spill. Hall of Famer Mike Smith and veteran Jon Court shake their heads. To illustrate, Smith narrates a clip of a sloppy 1998 race that put him into the hedge face first, resulting in a severely broken back. Talamo's name goes up on the stewards' board. He'll be meeting with the law tomorrow morning.

Race 2: We get only a no-depth-perception head-on replay of the stretch run (RSA) as it appears to this observer that Talamo goes for a hole that won't be open when he gets there - if he can get there. His horse sticks his head between two others, and in natural weaving by the other two, all three of them almost go down. The two leaders pinch him back out. No objection or inquiry is posted, but once again Talamo's on the chalkboard. Joe makes like he's in deep shit, but he also looks like he knows he'll avoid a suspension. (RSA) "These young guys are getting more and more aggressive," says Court, shaking his head once again.

Race 3: Crazy Joe is speeding eastbound on the Eisenhower at Des Plaines Avenue with his right blinker on. All's well as he sees the sign alerting him to the Harlem Avenue exit just ahead. There's the exit. But it's on THE LEFT SIDE! Uh oh. Joe darts across every lane of traffic, just making it up the ramp. Or so it seemed as Talamo pulled just such a maneuver to get to the rail and clear sailing as he wins his race three. Martin Garcia files an objection, which is denied, and the win stands.

In the jocks' room, veteran Aaron Gryder and the rest try to get through to Talamo. They're fairly quiet, gentle and calm (RSA). I would think there'd be at least some profanity, even if bleeped out.

It's now time for a veteran to take Joe "under his wing." Talamo, Smith, Gryder, Court and Alex Solis go to dinner. The kid orders a big meal and the veteran jocks wince. Smith tells him "cut it in half and take the rest home." They're teaching him how to eat! Then they light into "the kids these days." Including "these kids today, everybody thinks the younger you are, the better you are. It don't work that way." Or "it takes that long to get that good. You ain't gonna be that good 'til your 30s!" We get closeup video of Joe's major depressed look (RSA). To me, it looks like Joe absolutely cannot fathom 30 years old. Chuckle.

So Joe's in front of the stewards with a Jockeys Guild rep and must face the music, and it's not going well. But everyone in the room, with the cameras rolling (RSA), everyone is pulling their punches (RSA). The only race we see reviewed is the first (RSA), where a green two-year-old might very well veer like that. The other two races were far more dangerous. The narrator is barely finished waxing on and on about how closely the stewards watch the races and how safety is Job One when we learn that Talamo will not get any days (suspension) for his actions (RSA). I think he should have gotten at least three days.

A relieved Talamo and all the rest gather at Smith's condo to par-tay! It's in honor of retired jockey Gary Stevens, a Hall of Famer who might be better known for his attention-getting turn playing rider George Wolff in Seabiscuit. Gathered around the fancy California fire pit, Stevens, who looks a bit tipsy and Sammy Maudlin to me, goes serious and tells Joe to listen to his elders and learn from them, and keep working hard. Reminded me of "Pep Talk" from the tremendous Albert King / Stevie Ray Vaughn collaboration In Session. A bonus is some fast camera work of Mike's live-in girl, rider Chantal Sutherland, giving him a peck on the cheek. It wasn't enough, so she practically starts mauling him. Quick cut to living room.

Smith gives Talamo a DVD of some of his rides on the great Holy Bull, winner of many stakes races including the Florida Derby, the Travers and the Woodward, and both Three-Year-Old Champion and Horse of the Year in 1994. He's also the sire of Derby winner Giacomo (Smith aboard). "Watch this five times. You'll understand how to ride a good horse. If you don't get it after five times, you'll never get it," Smith tells him, making him promise, twice, not to lose the DVD. Why do we think he's going to lose the DVD? He didn't - this week.

Joe is chastened and cleansed and starts working out with Mike Smith. They jog around the track and stop on the backstretch, where Smith gives him the classic "nose to the grindstone" speech (RSA). They're not sweating or breathing hard (RSA). Sweat appears in on Talamo's shirt (RSA) in the behind-them shot walking back to the clubhouse.

In the second half hour, it seems Alex Solis' son, Alex, Jr., is a bloodstock agent and the old man rides his horses. He doesn't do well in a fillies and mares race, but then we see Solis win the Norfolk Stakes with Street Hero. That win launched him to the Breeders Cup, where he finished third to Midshipman in the Juvenile. He was injured in the race and retired in December. Solis Jr. owns a piece of The Pamplemousse, a very highly touted prospect for this year's Derby, but more on him later.

Chicago kid Brandon Meier is having problems. He can't get a ride, or enough rides to make a living. It's the eve of the Breeders Cup and the big shots are swarming Santa Anita. An apprentice ain't gonna get much action. In one last hurrah, Meier is wiring the field aboard One Time at Band Camp. In a shot they tried not to show (major RSA), Talamo pulls a Dan Ryan Expressway multi-lane change and gets up to beat Meier by a nose. This kid needs to sit!

Brandon lounges on his second-story porch with a view of the Pacific because he has no horses to ride. Making the painful decision, we soon see the rear end of his Chevy SUV as he heads back to Kentucky. It's a good move for him. I'm sure we'll see him this summer at Arlington.

On the Triple Crown Trail
We had two major races last week that need talking about.

The Fountain of Youth (GII) at Gulfstream was supposed to be a speed demonstration with Notonthesamepage taking the lead, This One's for Phil staying right there and stalking into the win, or another closer mopping up after the race fell apart. Those two did the opposite, with Phil being taken to the lead, albeit a slow first quarter, and 'page stalking, which hasn't been his style. But right there the whole way was Quality Road - thank you very much - who drew off to win by nearly five lengths. He was impressive in handling the slow-then-fast pace. Theregoesjojo flew up to second but could only chase Quality Road and Beethoven overcame traffic to finish third. This One's for Phil finished fifth with Notonthesamepage fading to seventh. It was announced after the race that he bled badly in his lungs, not uncommon at all, but they'll have to check him out. These two and Capt. Candyman Can (fourth) will not run in the Florida Derby, according to their connections. Their Derby hopes have been seriously damaged.

Out West, it was The Pamplemousse in the Sham (GIII), as expected. Setting his own nice pace, he looked smooth and powerful drawing off to a seven-length win. Take the Points finished second, Mr. Hot Stuff third.

Looking Good
* Quality Road
* Theregoesjojo
* The Pamplemousse

Looking Not So Good
* This One's for Phil
* Notonthesamepage
* Taqarub
* Capt. Candyman Can
* Beethoven
* Midshipman

New York, New York
I Want Revenge travels from California to Aqueduct's inner track for the Gotham Stakes (GIII). The angle here is that he doesn't like the artificial surface at Santa Anita and will test out the dirt, the same surface they run the Kentucky Derby on, by golly. He'll butt heads with Imperial Council, who takes the big step up, and Mr. Fantasy, a speed demon who steps out of the admittedly softer New York-bred ranks and tries to hit the Derby trail. Haynesfield is in the same boat. The big upset bomber could be Russell Road, who ships in from West Virginia.

Big 'Cap Day!
Two out of three for good betting ain't bad Saturday as it's Santa Anita Handicap Day in beautiful Arcadia, California.

Stardom Bound, she of the Derby aspirations, looks to be unstoppable in the Santa Anita Oaks (GI). Trainer Bobby Frankel says she's primed for a big effort. They'll use this as an indicator of whether she can stay on the Road to the Roses.

Familiar faces Ventura, Monterey Jazz (uncertain to run), Global Hunter, Becrux and Gio Ponti all square off on the turf in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (GI). Ventura is a 5-year-old mare who is a recent winner of the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and the Santa Monica, both on the artificial surface. Facing the boys, there's your hook.

The Santa Anita Handicap (GI) is shaping up to be a very competitive and bettable race. Cowboy Cal will take a lot of money, but he'll have to contend with the speed of Matto Mondo and the closing expertise of Colonel John. Magnum won last time out, I got burned by tossing Einstein in the Clark Handicap, Champs Elysees can compete and Court Vision returns to his beloved artificial surface.

* Midshipman, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and champion 2-year-old, is off the Derby trail after suffering an injury in training in Dubai. He's OK, but will miss some months.

* Last, but not least, Hawthorne Race Course opens Friday for its spring meeting running through April 27. Highlight of the meet, as always, will be the Illinois Derby on April 4.

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Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you Track Notes every Friday. You can reach him here.

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