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This Team Pulled Off Quite a Sting Operation

First, the name.

You might not believe in the horse, but could you at least correctly pronounce the name?

It’s “JOCK-oh-mo.”

Trevor Denman, the esteemed track announcer, has already publicly botched it twice.

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“We kept sending them notes about it,” Dottie Ingardo-Shirreffs, Giacomo’s racing manager, said with a sigh.

Second, the jockey.

He has finally won a Derby in his 12th try, so could you get off his once-broken back?

“Honestly, I’m so numb,” Mike Smith said after he finished crying. “I stood up at the wire, and it’s like all the strength just left my body.”

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Third, the owners.

Neither of them is named the Boss, they are not part of a cozy small-town syndicate, but talk about cool.

Jerry Moss, who was the “M” in A&M; records, named his horse not after an obscure street or boring hero, but the son of rock star Sting.

Meet Giacomo Sumner, today the most popular 9-year-old in his New York homeroom.

“We do those kinds of things,” said Jerry’s wife, Ann.

She was so excited after the four-legged Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, the other half of the L.A. power couple wanted to literally share it with the world.

“Hey, you won me 700 bucks!” a drunk fan screamed into her face.

“Wonderful,” she said, pointing to a blanket of roses she clutched in her arms. “Here, take one!”

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So the 131st Derby wasn’t won by the loaded New York trainer or loopy Tampa owner or that cute little Arkansas tear-jerker.

So what? This story was better. This story was more fun. It doesn’t matter if we never hear from Giacomo again -- and we might not -- this was a story worth telling.

“It’s a movie,” Smith said.

It is the story about the power of Derby underdogs, the strength of Derby shadows and -- this is the best part -- the foolishness of Derby experts who discounted California-based horses because of one sluggish prep.

“Yeah, we were pretty much under the radar all week,” Jerry Moss said.

Under the radar? They were more hidden here than Churchill Downs’ newly configured twin spires.

Hundreds of media here, yet the owner was interviewed by only one reporter all week.

If we had paid more attention, we would have realized that Moss got into horses only

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because he was trying to soothe a business associate who had been hospitalized with a

stroke.

“I said, ‘Nate, is there anything that I can do for you?’ ” Moss said, referring to Nate Duroff. “He said, ‘Yeah, when I get out of here, you can buy a horse with me.’ ”

If that tidbit isn’t good enough, well, Moss was ready with another one.

“I’ll give you the [headline],” Moss said Saturday night. “Tomorrow is my birthday.”

Then there is trainer John Shirreffs, who is so low key, when an NBC reporter afterward asked him to say something to his mother, he simply said, “Hi, Mom.”

The gray horse itself was so quiet, you couldn’t even see him on television until the final seconds of the race.

And when he finally won, well, Ann Moss was so stunned, she didn’t want to walk downstairs until the official results were posted.

They were greeted not with the huge ovations that followed the likes of Nick Zito all week, but with mostly awkward stares, and why not?

It was the Mosses’ first Derby, trainer Shirreffs’ first Derby, and wound up being Giacomo’s first 2005 victory.

The horse had just become the second-biggest underdog victor in 131 years.

But how can you not respect a trainer who said he was so overwhelmed by the event that he was nearly crying ... on the drive here last week from the airport?

“Almost brought tears to my eyes ... thinking here is a Kentucky-bred horse and here he’s going to the biggest race in Kentucky,” said Shirreffs, who trains out of Hollywood Park.

How can you not admire a jockey who came up with a brilliant traffic-dodging ride that included a zigzag stretch move that would have made any Southland driver proud?

After one mile he was 11th. At the top of the stretch he was sixth. Then he cut inside, dashed outside, and across the finish line as 156,435 uttered a collective “Whaaaat?”

“He just kept grinding and grinding and didn’t stop until he got in,” Smith said later, grinning and adding, “If you watch in slow motion, it was pretty cool.”

Cool is four of the Derby’s top six finishers having come here from the Santa Anita Derby, which was proclaimed nationwide to be even a bigger loser than the Lakers.

“The California horses were beating each other and some got hurt,” said Smith, whose Giacomo finished fourth in that race. “They went slow for California, nine times out of 10 they are going to go twice as fast.”

For the most imperfect of teams, the pace was perfect, as was the ending.

Time for the music guy, who sold A&M; records in 1989 and turns 70 today, to give this victory a song?

Said Jerry: “I would say, ‘This Guy’s In Love With You.’ ”

Said Ann: “How about, ‘Joy To The World’?”

In honor of the father of the horse’s namesake, how about “Every Breath You Take”?

On a day glorious in all its disarray, Jock-oh-mo took plenty of them.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous Plaschke columns, go to latimes.com/plaschke.


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