Teenager Talamo to ride undefeated filly in Breeders' Cup
A year ago, Joe Talamo was watching the Breeders' Cup on television, hoping he could someday ride in racing's richest event.
Now, the 17-year-old jockey barely old enough to drive has come together with two other first-timers for a shot at winning the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf.
Talamo will be aboard undefeated Nashoba's Key, the 3-1 morning line favorite in Saturday's race at Monmouth Park. The filly is trained by Carla Gaines, who has her first Breeders' Cup starter. She'll try to become the second woman to saddle a winner.
"It's unbelievable, really," said Talamo, a Louisiana native who has quickly added his name to the state's storied list of outstanding riders. "Here I am in my first year of riding and actually in the Breeders' Cup. It's really a dream come true."
Talamo could become the youngest jockey to win a Breeders' Cup race. Fernando Jara was 18 when he rode Invasor to a victory in last year's Classic at Churchill Downs.
Gaines thinks her young jockey and 4-year-old filly complement each other. Talamo has been on Nashoba's Key for her last four races. She is 7-0.
"They're both light on experience but very capable and very talented," she said. "They both just have it."
Talamo moved to Southern California in April. He promptly finished second in the jockeys' standings to Michael Baze at the Hollywood Park and Del Mar meets. He has continued to win since losing the weight break he got as an apprentice in July.
"I don't think I've ever met a more precocious 17-year-old," Gaines said. "He just has a very natural ability with a horse."
Gaines learned about Talamo through his agent, who is a friend of hers. She gave the teenager a chance to work horses in her stable after he arrived in California. Talamo calls her "Miss Carla."
He credits Gaines and owner Warren Williamson for giving him "the opportunity of a lifetime. I'm very excited and so very fortunate and blessed."
Even if Nashoba's Key has a mean streak to match her winning streak. She's known to bite just about anyone around the barn, and has left a few scars on people, according to Gaines.
Nashoba's Key got on a plane for the first time to travel from her base at Santa Anita in Southern California. The Breeders' Cup will be her first race outside California, but she's won Grade 1 races on the turf and synthetic surfaces.
"She has handled everything they have thrown at her," Gaines said. Nashoba's Key will take on 11 challengers in the 1 3-8 mile Filly & Mare Turf.
"There will be competition from some nice fillies from Europe, but I think she's ready for the endeavor," Gaines said. "She's trained fantastic since the last win in the Yellow Ribbon."
Nashoba's Key's winning streak began Jan. 7 at Santa Anita in the first race of her career. Then she beat California-bred fillies in her next two races.
She moved to artificial surfaces for her next three wins in stakes races, then returned to the turf to win the Yellow Ribbon in September and earn her way into the Breeders' Cup.
If she wins Saturday, Nashoba's Key would tie Favorite Trick, who won his eighth straight in the 1997 Juvenile at Hollywood Park. The colt went on to be named Horse of the Year.