Joe Talamo, the 20-year-old star of the Animal Planet reality series Jockeys, was supposed to get his first stab at the Kentucky Derby in 2009, but he lost his ride on the morning of the race when the favorite, I Want Revenge, woke up with a tender left front ankle. On May 1st, the Marrero, Louisiana, native returns to Churchill Downs aboard 6-to-1 shot Sidney's Candy. Before mounting up, he talked with Details about clothes shopping for the height-challenged, jockey groupies, and why he'll sing Frank Sinatra in the winners circle.
Details: Most people underestimate the rigors of a jockey's life. I mean, you work from 5 am. til 8, 9, 10 o'clock at night. You can't eat anything 'cause you're always battling weight. You're completely at the whim of some 1,200-pound animal. And the sport is incredibly dangerous—horses collide, guys break their necks all the time. So why do you do it?
Joe Talamo: That adrenaline. The excitement. What you feel when you win a race. That's how jockeys are. They ride til either they're too old or they're injured. They want to feel that last win.
Details: There's also no contract when you turn professional. No signing bonus. You're starting for a wage of—what—like, $35 a mount?
Joe Talamo: Yeah. You can make anywhere from $100 to $100,000 a week. No contract. The way we get paid, we pretty much have to win to make anything.
Talamo was a natural from early childhood.
Details: I read somewhere that you actually started out riding a couch. How did that work?
Joe Talamo: When I was a little kid, 4 or 5, I'd bust my mom's couch. I used to get whippings for it, but now I can buy her a couple of them, so she's not that mad.
Details: Did you saddle up or just ride on top?
Joe Talamo: Just sat on the arm rest and hit it with a whip that the jockey Robby Albarado gave me. He's from Lafayette, Louisiana, about 2 hours northwest of where I grew up.
Details: You got a taste of Derby Day at Churchill Downs last year, but your horse—the favorite of the time—was scratched on the morning of the race, right?
Joe Talamo: Yeah.
Details: I know that was devastating for you, but did it give you some idea of what to expect on Saturday?
Joe Talamo: Ummmm. Yeah. You don't have a derby horse til it goes in the gate. [Laughs.] That's how horseracing is, you know? Anything can happen.