The jockey colony at Oaklawn Park has grown more competitive as the purses have increased throughout the past decade.
One notable addition is Joe Talamo who is back at the Hot Springs, Arkansas track this year for his second full season.
Smokin’ Joe – a former mainstay in southern California who was featured on the Animal Planet Network reality show Jockeys – decided to trade Santa Anita Park for Oaklawn in 2020.
It was a gamble that paid off. He and Martin Garcia were tied for 2nd in the Win column at the end of the meet last year with 53.
But Talamo was alone in second place in earnings with over $3.3 million (perennial Oaklawn leader Ricardo Santana Jr. was first in both categories).
“It feels great to be back in Hot Springs. I absolutely love it here,” Talamo said. “My first season at Oaklawn was incredible. That’s why I came back this year. The purse structure here – even with COVID – is one of the best in America.”
An amazing total of eight Stakes Wins bolstered his earnings last year. In those races, Talamo was aboard such elite horses as WHITMORE, SHEDARESTHEDEVIL, and SERENGETI EMPRESS.
“To be honest, last year exceeded my expectations. I wasn’t sure what to expect with it being my first season and not really knowing too many people,” Talamo said. “If you had told me at the start that we would Win eight stakes there’s no way I would have believed that.”
Talamo’s 2021 Oaklawn season didn’t have an auspicious start: he tested positive for COVID-19 on Opening Day.
He was surprised: the week prior, he tested negative three times as he transitioned from riding at the Fair Grounds.
However, the next day he woke up without taste or smell, his only symptoms for seven days.
Not experiencing fatigue, he ran 2-4 miles each day and hiked the West Mountain Trails and tried to stay as fit as possible as he sat out the first two weeks of Oaklawn.
“It’s going to be tough playing catch-up,” he said. “I will work hard like I always do and just hope for the best.”
When he’s not at the track, and in addition to the hiking, Talamo enjoys fishing and golfing in Hot Springs. He also appreciates the camaraderie in town.
“One thing I love about Hot Springs is the people here. It’s one of those tight-knit communities where you go to the grocery store, gym, and everyone’s friendly. They love horse racing. They know right away if you’re a jockey, trainer, or an owner. They really love going to the races.”
And we’re sure they love you, and the way you compete Joe. Have a great meet, and stay healthy.