Giacomo’s Golden Gait

Times Staff Writer

In a Kentucky Derby that was virtually ordained to be trainer Nick Zito’s, and was supposed to be off-limits for any horse from California, the improbable Giacomo brought more insanity to Churchill Downs with the second-biggest upset in race history.

Favorites routinely get beat up in the Derby, but Saturday’s result was off the charts. Before 156,435, second-largest crowd in Derby history, Giacomo won for only the second time, rallying from third-last for a half-length win. He paid $102.60 to win. Only Donerail’s $184.90 payoff in 1913 has been juicier.

Zito, who had won the Derby twice, was supposed to have had a controlling hand in the 131st running with a record-tying five starters, all of them quality colts. But Bellamy Road, favored at 5-2, gave George Steinbrenner, his owner and the boss of the slumping New York Yankees, another peptic day. The best of Zito’s finishers, Bellamy Road was seventh. Of his other horses, Andromeda’s Hero was eighth, High Fly 10th, Noble Causeway 14th and Sun King 15th.


Closing Argument, a 71-1 shot, finished second, a half-length ahead of Afleet Alex, and it was 2 1/2 additional lengths back to Don’t Get Mad, who had run only a week ago, winning the Derby Trial. The $2 exacta paid $9,814.80 and the trifecta return on the first three finishers was $133,134.80. A $1 superfecta bet on the first four under the wire was good for $864,253.50.

Buzzards Bay was fifth and Wilko sixth. According to a consensus of horsemen and handicappers, the California contingent wasn’t a bumper crop, yet four of the first six finishers -- Giacomo, Don’t Get Mad, Buzzards Bay and Wilko -- came out of the Santa Anita Derby. Giacomo, who ran fourth that day, beaten by only two lengths as Buzzards Bay won the Santa Anita Derby, was the 15th starter from that race, and the first since Charismatic in 1999, to win the Kentucky Derby.

Flower Alley finished ninth, and after him came High Fly, Greeley’s Galaxy, Coin Silver, Greater Good, Noble Causeway, Sun King, Spanish Chestnut, Sort It Out, Going Wild, Bandini and High Limit. Spanish Chestnut, as expected, set the pace for six furlongs.

The only gray horse in the race, Giacomo was ridden by Mike Smith, a Hall of Fame jockey but winless in 11 previous Derbies. They completed 1 1/4 miles in 2:02 3/5 , distancing themselves from opening fractions that were among the fastest in Derby history.

Giacomo, bred and owned by Jerry and Ann Moss of Los Angeles and trained by John Shirreffs, had won only one of seven previous starts. The last horse to win the Derby off one career win was Alysheba in 1987. In his second start, Giacomo got his first win, by 10 lengths at Santa Anita in October, but after that came a string of promising but nonwinning races. Shirreffs, 60, who had never had a Derby horse before, started thinking about the race when Giacomo ran second to Declan’s Moon, the eventual Eclipse award winner, in the Hollywood Futurity in December.

For Smith, this win ended a string of disheartening Derby finishes. He had had three seconds, but the most galling was Holy Bull’s 12th-place finish as the favorite in 1994. Giacomo is a son of Holy Bull and the Stop The Music mare Set Them Free.


Smith, the only jockey Giacomo has had, whipped his colt 16 times through the stretch. Giacomo was more than 18 lengths behind after a half-mile, at least 14 back after six furlongs and still had 3 1/2 lengths to make up in the final eighth of a mile. Five horses -- Closing Argument, Afleet Alex, Bellamy Road, High Fly and Buzzards Bay -- were still ahead of him.

From his seat, Shirreffs had trouble picking up Giacomo early in the race, but finally, at the three-sixteenths pole, he saw where he was.

“I saw his white shadow roll,” Shirreffs said, referring to a piece of equipment across a horse’s nose. “He was moving, and I said to myself that he had a chance to hit the board. Then he kept coming, and I said to myself, ‘He might even win it.’ ”

Exhausted from the effort, Smith stood up in the irons just past the finish line and wondered whether his aching legs would support him.

“I was so numb,” he said. “It was an incredible feeling. It wasn’t a perfect trip. On the first turn, he got carried out and I had to jump heels [of another horse].”

Smith found himself blocked at the head of the stretch.

“I found a seam, took it, and got him to the outside,” Smith said. “I liked this horse from the beginning. I thought about those three seconds in the Derby, and this horse gave me hope. Every race, he took just a little step forward. John Shirreffs is a genius at what he does. If he had wound up this horse three or four races ago, he might not have even made it here.”


Closing Argument, ridden by Cornelio Velasquez, had been third, but nine lengths behind winner Bandini, in the Blue Grass Stakes three weeks ago. The longest shot in Saturday’s field, he was in contention early.

“It was the thrill of a lifetime for an eighth of a mile,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Closing Argument. “He’s one hell of a horse who might start getting some respect.”

Afleet Alex, the second choice at 9-2, drew even with Closing Argument before Giacomo passed them both.

“My horse is as game as they come, he’s tough,” said Jeremy Rose, who rode Afleet Alex. “There was some bumping in the race, and my horse was trying for all he was worth. At the three-sixteenths pole, I felt I was getting to the leaders, but he got a little tired on me. The bouncing around might have made him weary in the lane.”



Derby breakdown

Payoffs for the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby:

*--* Horse Win Place Show Giacomo 102.60 45.80 19.80 Closing Argument 70.00 24.80 Afleet Alex 4.60


* Finish time: 2:02.75

* Also ran: Don’t Get Mad, Buzzards Bay, Wilko, Bellamy Road, Andromeda’s Hero, Flower Alley, High Fly, Greeley’s Galaxy, Coin Silver, Greater Good, Noble Causeway, Sun King, Spanish Chestnut, Sort It Out, Going Wild, Bandini and High Limit




$2 Exacta (10-18) $9,814.80

$2 Trifecta (10-18-12) $133,134.80

$1 Superfecta (10-18-12-17) $864,253.50

Experts dismissed horses with Southern California connections going into the Kentucky Derby. The four horses that ran in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9 and how they finished Saturday:

1st -- Giacomo

Santa Anita Derby: Finished 4th.

Kentucky Derby odds: 50-1.

* This was his second victory in eight races -- his other one came in a maiden race at Santa Anita in October.

5th -- Buzzards Bay

Santa Anita Derby: 1st.

Kentucky Derby odds: 46-1.

* His Santa Anita Derby win didn’t impress many, but he gave trainer Jeff Mullins his best finish in a Kentucky Derby.

4th -- Don’t Get Mad

Santa Anita Derby: 6th.

Kentucky Derby odds: 29-1.

* He went off at long odds after having won all three of his previous races at Churchill Downs, including the Derby Trial a week earlier.

6th -- Wilko

Santa Anita Derby: 3rd.

Kentucky Derby odds: 21-1.

* He failed to become the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to win the Kentucky Derby, but he did finish ahead of favorite Bellamy Road.

Source: Los Angeles Times and Equibase



The longest shots

The highest payoffs for winners of the Kentucky Derby since $2 mutuel bets began in 1911, with winner, year and price:


*--* Horse Year $2 win Donerail 1913 $184.90 Giacomo 2005 $102.60 Gallahadion 1940 $72.40 Charismatic 1999 $64.60 Proud Clarion 1967 $62.20 Exterminator 1918 $61.20 Dark Star 1953 $51.80 Thunder Gulch 1995 $51.00 Gato Del Sol 1982 $44.40 Bold Venture 1936 $43.00 War Emblem 2002 $43.00


The upset by Giacomo triggered record Derbys payoffs

*--* * WIN -- (Giacomo) $102.60, second highest. Record: $184.90 by Donerail, 1913. * PLACE -- (Closing Argument) $70.00. Old record: $53.00 by Royal Mustang, 1951. * EXACTA -- (first two finishers in exact order; Giacomo-Closing Argument) $9,814.80. Old record: $1,300.80, 2002. * TRIFECTA -- (first three finishers in exact order; Giacomo-Closing Argument-Afleet Alex) $133,134.80. Old record: $18,373.20, 2002. * SUPERFECTA -- (first four finishers in exact order; Giacomo-Closing Arguement-Afleet Alex-Don’t Get Mad) $864,253.50. Old record: $91,764.50, 2002.


Source: Associated Press



A field’s day

A look at how each horse in the Kentucky Derby fared:

* GIACOMO was unhurried and four or five wide between rivals during the early stages, continued four wide along the backstretch, worked his way forward between horses six wide on the far turn, was in behind a wall of horses entering the upper stretch, was alertly angled eight abreast to secure racing room, then closed determinedly under extreme left-handed urging to prevail.

* CLOSING ARGUMENT bobbled slightly while drifting out for a stride at the break, gained a forward position while nine wide during the opening quarter, angled inward to be four wide on the first turn and along the backstretch, inched up between foes four or five wide entering the far turn, gained a narrow advantage leaving the three-sixteenths pole, was joined by the winner from the outside at about the sixteenth pole and held on tenaciously to save the place.

* AFLEET ALEX was nicely placed under light rating early on while between foes four or five wide, rallied near the inside around the far turn, came out and split rivals when straightened into the stretch, gained even terms for the lead in deep stretch and wasn’t quite good enough.

* DON’T GET MAD settled eight wide early, edged in on the first turn, raced four wide on the backstretch, was asked for his best nearing the three-eighths pole while circling foes eight wide, came to the extreme outside to be 10 wide when straightened away for the drive, offered a serious bid entering the final furlong but couldn’t sustain the needed momentum.


* BUZZARDS BAY gained a striking position early while maneuvering in six wide, edged closer nearing the end of the backstretch, commenced a sweeping bid seven wide approaching the final quarter, loomed menacingly but came up empty.

* WILKO, eased back five wide early, began to advance four wide on the far turn, came out between horses six or seven wide for the drive and improved position while unable to threaten.

* BELLAMY ROAD was away in good order to track the leaders under light rating five wide, was asked for more nearing the five-sixteenths pole, gained a slight advantage when straightened into the stretch, but weakened.

* ANDROMEDA’S HERO was unhurried to the far turn and racing near the inside, came out six or seven wide entering the stretch and produced a mild gain.

* FLOWER ALLEY was a bit sluggish to begin, leaned in early bumping with HIGH LIMIT, forced that one in on NOBLE CAUSEWAY, moved inside, continued forwardly, was steadied behind SPANISH CHESTNUT approaching the five-sixteenths pole and weakened soon after.

* HIGH FLY was nicely placed while working his way near the inside between foes, continued between horses when going after SPANISH CHESTNUT approaching the stretch, put a head in front near the final quarter, but couldn’t sustain the needed momentum.


* GREELEY’S GALAXY was tardy to start, quickly was angled in to race four abreast, came a bit wider on the far turn to commence a sweeping bid, reached contention when straightened for the drive and lacked a further punch.

* COIN SILVER eased back early, made a run four or five wide around the far turn, worked his way out eight wide for the drive but was unable to continue.

* GREATER GOOD was void of early speed and outrun to the stretch, came out 10 wide for the drive and failed to menace while improving position.

* NOBLE CAUSEWAY bumped with COIN SILVER at the start, was forced to check sharply when bumped by HIGH LIMIT nearing the wire the first time and failed to reach serious contention.

* SUN KING was in contention near the inside for seven furlongs, gradually weakened thereafter.

* SPANISH CHESTNUT moved to the front early, maneuvered in to show the way three or four wide, opened a clear advantage on the first turn, held on for almost a mile.


* SORT IT OUT never reached contention.

* GOING WILD angled in early to press front-running SPANISH CHESTNUT four wide, was asked for more leaving the backstretch, failed to keep pace and faded.

* BANDINI was in contention while racing in mid-pack between rivals, but was finished entering the far turn.

* HIGH LIMIT was bumped passing the wire the first time and forced in on NOBLE CAUSEWAY, was finished after six furlongs while near the inside.

Source: Equibase