When you really think about it, riding in a Thoroughbred race is kind of a leap of faith. Climbing aboard a spirited athlete with twice as many legs and aver 10 times your size certainly takes courage. Not to mention traveling in a pack of other thundering tonnage running thirty five or so miles per hour. There is one jockey in particular that will be a testament of faith when the horses are saddled in the grade 1 Clark at Churchill Downs on November 27.

Jumping Joe Talamo has spent the better part of his riding career in Southern California. Born in Louisiana in 1990, the ambitious Cajun crafted himself as a skilled rider at a very young age. After spending the last thirteen years on the Southern California circuit, the winner of some of the Golden State’s biggest stakes races decided to come back East.

The decision to move his young family closer to his birth place was not easy. Having basically grown up at places like Santa Anita and Del Mar, Talamo courageously decided it was time for a change.

“I did a lot of thinking about it and it came down to more opportunity and better purse structure at the tracks east of the Mississippi,” says the 2007 Eclipse award winning apprentice rider. “Some of the races run at Oaklawn Park and Churchill have twice the prize money as the same type of races run out West. My kids are still very young so I didn’t have to uproot them from school and my wife was behind it so here we are.”

Talamo has seemed to find his way just fine during a challenging year. Riding at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he sat atop the jockey standings for much of the meet before finishing second in wins (53) as he acquired a season leading 320 mounts. Among those rides, Talamo finished in the top three 42% of the time. At the Churchill Downs spring meet a ninth place finish in the final rider standings was followed by a tenth place at the short September meet at Churchill. At the current meet beneath the Twin Spires he is fifth in purse earnings and has finished in the money 36% of the time.

Talamo has enjoyed the year thus far in some new surroundings. But the former champion rider at the Fair Grounds (2006) in his home state points to a couple of simple reasons for his success.

“You always have to work as hard as you can in this game to be a winner,” says Talamo. “I have always tried to follow that simple rule. The other thing that has been a big help is being able to get on some really live horses. My agent, Jake Romans, has done an excellent job of putting me on some great horses. He has put me in a position to be successful and that has been huge.”

The leap of faith has paid off thus far for Talamo, but like any top rider, he’s hungry for that next big win. The tradition-rich Clark is currently in the cross-hairs. Run every year since 1875, this mile and an eighth journey over the Churchill Downs dirt will see Talamo getting a leg up on Coastal Defense. Trained by Dale Romans, one of the all-time training icons at the Louisville Oval, the Louisiana native guided this son of Curlin to victory in September at Churchill.

Talamo understands the opportunity now before him as the Clark attracts top talent. One of the “big” year-end races.it is worth $500,000. This give Joe another chance to jump up against the game’s big hitters.

“I think Coastal Defense is a horse on the rise and he seems to be getting better and better,” says Talamo. “He’s versatile and that gives you a better opportunity because you don’t have to be pace dependent to win. Dale is a great guy to ride for and he always does a great job of having his horses ready. I am very excited to have the chance to ride in a prestigious race like the Clark. “

Those opportunities can come along with a leap of faith. The Clark will headline the black Friday card at Churchill Downs on November 27. Some of the horses lining up against Coastal Defense are stable mate Mr Freeze, grade 1 winner Honor Code and graded stakes winner Owendale just to name a few.