It took some time for Joe Talamo to fully absorb the 11th-hour incident that cost him a ride on the favorite in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Chalk it up to youth, inexperience, naiveté or maturity beyond his years, but the young riding star took it in stride when I Want Revenge was scratched due to injury on the morning of the race.
"Five in the morning I get a text and it said, 'Sorry,'" recalled Talamo's agent, Scott McClellan. "I said, 'Sorry. Sorry what? What does that mean?' And then five minutes later, Joe called and said, 'Oh, I got bad news. Our horse had to scratch out of the Derby.'
"I said, 'Oh my God. I just got a text from (fellow agent) Ron Anderson that said 'Sorry.' I didn't know what it meant.'
"Joe was living at a house in Louisville that (part owner) David Lanzman rented there. Joe stayed upstairs in a bedroom and when he was coming downstairs, they told him the news."
Talamo and McClellan hope there will be no such last-minute disappointing revelations this year, starting Saturday, when Joe rides Triple Crown prospect Treasury Bill in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, a steppingstone to the Run for the Roses on May 4.
The Derby is relatively old hat for McClellan, an agent for 40 years, who won it with Chris McCarron on Go for Gin in 1994 and Alysheba in 1987. Starting in the late 1990s, McClellan finished second four times in five years, with Cavonnier (McCarron, 1996), Captain Bodgit (Alex Solis, 1997), Victory Gallop (Solis, 1998) and Aptitude (Solis, 2000).
The Derby is not an afterthought for Talamo, however, especially after 2009.
"I learned you're not in the Derby till the gates open," said Talamo, who rides San Vicente runner-up Treasury Bill for trainer Ron Ellis.
"I'm definitely excited about Treasury Bill," Talamo continued. "I know Ron was high on him even before he ever ran. But I don't think he's peaked yet. If you look at his form, every race he's getting a little better. He hasn't run that real big standout race yet but I think he's going to soon.
"I think he's sitting on tilt right now. He's been working unbelievable. His last work he went (four furlongs on Monday) in 48 flat. You couldn't ask him to be doing any better."
As for the letdown with I Want Revenge, Talamo took the ordeal with the proverbial grain of salt.
"Everything happened so fast that day it was kind of hard for me to grasp it," he said. "I was so young at the time (19) it didn't really kick in. In this game, when something like that happens, you have to put it behind you. I still had to ride that day so I couldn't have it on my mind.
"I was fortunate to get back to the Derby the next year with Sidney's Candy and it was a thrill just to ride in it."