LOUISVILLE — As a jockey, this isn't Joe Talamo's first trip to the Kentucky Derby.
And yet, this could be his first Derby.
It's so much to handle for someone who last year, at age 19, came oh so close to riding the favorite in the world's most famous race, only to have the rug pulled out from under him.
"It's such a blur almost," Talamo said the other day, back at Churchill Downs.
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"I try not to think about it too much."
It would be hard not to think about it, at least every once in a while, even if you don't have a lot of time to think because you ride a full schedule in California and you're the jock on Sidney's Candy, probable second choice in Saturday's 136th running of the Derby.
"I'm fortunate," said Talamo.
Last year, not so much.
Oh, he was fortunate to have the mount on I Want Revenge, the Jeff Mullins-trained entry whom Churchill oddsmaker Mike Battaglia put at the top of his Derby morning line.
It was heady stuff for a Louisiana boy discovered by the late Bobby Frankel, who after a brief stay in New York settled in California. After winning a 2007 Eclipse Award for the nation's best apprentice jockey, Talamo earned better mounts, including I Want Revenge.
Why, all Derby week last year, Talamo kept saying how he could hardly believe his luck, to be such a young rider on such a good horse.
Then the morning of the race — the morning of the race — his luck ran out. Out of the blue, Mullins and I Want Revenge's owners scratched their 3-year-old after discovering a problem with an ankle.
It is one thing for an Eskendereya, this year's favorite, to be ruled out after his trainer found filling in his leg one week before the race. It's another thing to be scratched the morning of the race.
"It was really hard to comprehend almost," said Talamo, who turned 20 in January.
Family had flown in to Louisville, including Talamo's mom, Joy, his dad, Joe, and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Ellis. The traveling party went on to the Derby and had a good time, Talamo said. Elizabeth even bet the long-shot winner, Mine That Bird.
Everyone tried to make the best of a bad situation.
"Everybody's wanting to make you feel better, telling you, 'You'll be back, you'll be back,' " Talamo said. "You don't know. You hope you'll be back. But it might be next year, it might be 20 years."
Turns out, it was this year.
"It's really hard to put into words," Talamo said. "Just to be here is unbelievable, you know, and especially to be here with a good horse like Sidney's Candy. Just feel so blessed and fortunate."
In fact, Sidney's Candy was Talamo's one Derby shot. He had no other candidates before Sid and Jenny Craig's colt won the San Vicente, then followed with San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby wins.
"He just started winning and winning, and the rest is history," Talamo said. "I definitely feel very blessed to be here."
"(Joe) has all the upside in the world," said John Sadler, trainer of Sidney's Candy. "Hopefully in the next four or five years, he'll be one of the top jockeys in the United States."
Talamo rode at Keeneland on Thursday and Friday of last week, then was on Sidney's Candy for a Saturday morning work over a wet Churchill track before returning to California to ride nine horses at Hollywood Park.
"If it rains Derby Day, I won't be mad," Talamo said before leaving.
Talamo returns to Louisville on Thursday for Sidney's Candy's final preparations.
"He's such a classy horse," the jockey said. "For being 3, he's real mature, classy. John's done such a good job with him, stepping him right on up the ladder."
Same for the jockey, who in his second Derby Week, hopes to ride in his first Derby.