Oaklawn Park’s jockey colony has grown more competitive as the purses have increased throughout the past decade. Two recent notable additions are Joe Talamo, who is in Hot Springs for his second full season, and Florent Geroux, who is wintering at Oaklawn for the first time.
“Smokin’ Joe” – a former mainstay in southern California who was featured on Animal Planet’s reality show Jockeys – decided to trade Santa Anita Park for Hot Springs in 2020, and it was a gamble that paid off. He and Martin Garcia tied for second in wins with 53, but Talamo was the clear runner-up in earnings with over $3.3 million (perennial leader Ricardo Santana Jr. took 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.”
“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 didn’t have a fairytale beginning: 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 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.”
Florent Geroux, who finished 2020 ranking sixth in earnings among all North American jockeys, decided to begin 2021 at Oaklawn instead of Fair Grounds to follow some of his standout mounts. He rides first call for trainer Brad Cox, who recently received the 2020 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer, and many of these horses come from Cox’s barn.
Chief among these is Monomoy Girl, who has won two Eclipse Awards and whose 13 wins and two seconds from 15 career starts includes two victories in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Geroux has been in the irons for all of her races except for one, and she is scheduled to make her 2021 debut in the Bayakoa Stakes Feb. 15.
“Very excited,” Geroux said. “It’s one of the main reasons, too, I’m here. Because of the COVID situation, you don’t know how you’re going to be able to travel back and forth. She’s supposed to run twice, once in the Bayakoa and once in the Apple Blossom (Stakes on April 17).”
Geroux has been on the Cox trainee Shedaresthedevil for her last four starts, including her 2020 Kentucky Oaks win. Cox said the Azeri Stakes on March 13 is a loose comeback target for her.
Geroux and Cox vaulted Caddo River on the Kentucky Derby trail with a record-setting 10 ¼-length victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes for local owner John Ed Anthony’s Shortleaf Stable. Caddo River, son of 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun, is pointed towards the March 13 Rebel Stakes, another race offering points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
“It makes more sense for me this year to go to Oaklawn. The purses are really very appealing. The good purses bring good horses. I’m trying to follow the good horses,” Geroux said. “Oaklawn is great. With the fans it’s even better. You really know the fans are always present. More than any other racetrack.”
“Flo the jock” said he is still trying to find his way around Hot Springs, but he agrees with Talamo about the people being very welcoming.
“They really like horsemen, that’s for sure,” he said.
Geroux’s father was a jockey and trainer in France, and Florent was the country’s leading apprentice in that country in 2005. Geroux, 34, has lived in the United States since 2008 and became an American citizen in January 2018. He passed the test to become a citizen the day before winning the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Gun Runner.
Both Geroux and Talamo each have two children and currently call Louisville home. In Hot Springs, they live three doors apart in a condominium complex.