Giacomo Makes His ’06 Debut in Strub

Times Staff Writer

Giacomo will make his first start Saturday as a 4-year-old in the $300,000 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita and if the colt runs the way he did in 2004 and 2005, his fans and connections have only one win to look forward to this year.

The gray son of Holy Bull had only a maiden win in four starts as a 2-year-old, then went one for six last year.

That lone victory, however, was extremely memorable and earned Giacomo a place in history. Owned by breeders Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, Giacomo staged a shocker in the Kentucky Derby last May 7 at Churchill Downs.


Dismissed at 50-1, he and jockey Mike Smith rallied through traffic to beat Closing Argument, another longshot, by half a length in the world’s most famous race. He was the highest-priced winner in the Derby since Doneraile won at 91-1 in 1913.

Losses followed in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, then Giacomo went to the sidelines, undergoing surgery to remove chips from both of his front legs.

He is back, bigger and stronger, according to his trainer, and with something to prove. Skeptics have called him a one-race wonder and some doubt that he will ever win another significant race before he is retired to begin his career as a stallion at Adena Springs in Kentucky.

“I think the best is yet to come from this horse,” said Shirreffs, who has been training for 28 years. “You can see the difference in him now from the start of his 3-year-old year. He’s filled out. He’s probably gained 150 pounds and he’s more aggressive now. I’m interested to see what he does in the race on Saturday because he is a little more on the muscle.

“Twenty horses lined up in the gate for the Derby and they all had an equal opportunity. I don’t know that anybody had a bad trip that day and Giacomo ran a super race.”

Giacomo has been training for the last 10 weeks at his home base at Hollywood Park.

Rather than pick out any specific race, Shirreffs decided to let the horse tell him when he was ready to run. The Strub, however, was a logical spot since it is restricted to 4-year-olds and the distance, 1 1/8 miles, is right for a horse that has run less than 1 1/16 miles only once in his career.


“I think he’s ready now,” Shirreffs said.

Only Mike Smith has ever ridden Giacomo and the Hall of Fame jockey is coming in from Florida to reunite with the colt who provided him with his first Derby victory.

Even though Smith no longer rides locally, there was never any thought about changing jockeys, Shirreffs said. Smith was glad to hear that.

“I certainly hoped I would keep the mount,” he said earlier this week from Gulfstream Park. “I’ve kept in contact with Mr. and Mrs. Moss and John to see how the colt has been progressing and I’ve offered to come out and work him if they wanted me to do so. I’m certainly excited for the opportunity to ride him again.

“I don’t necessarily think he has something to prove, but he’s filled out and matured and I think people are going to see the real Giacomo that they didn’t see in the Preakness or Belmont. He didn’t have a great trip in the Preakness and he hurt himself in the Belmont, but he was still trying and he did have the lead around the turn that day. I’m very confident he’ll come back and show what kind of horse he is.”

No matter what happens the rest of Giacomo’s career, the Derby will always be his. It is a memory Shirreffs, 60, cherishes.

“Winning the Derby is above and beyond anything you can imagine,” he said. “It changes everything. It’s really a special prize and it is so much fun to bring the Derby horse back to the racetrack.


“At Del Mar, I can’t tell you how much pleasure we got out of leading him out and having somebody come by and saying, ‘Hey can I have my picture taken with Giacomo?’

“I had a little digital camera there and I would take the picture and then e-mail them the picture. It’s amazing how many people really enjoy being associated in some way with a Derby winner. It’s really very, very special.”


Nine Kentucky Derby winners have run previously in the Strub and six have won the race. Silver Charm was the most recent, beating five opponents in 1998 after his Derby victory in 1997.


Giacomo certainly didn’t scare anyone away. A dozen others were entered for the Strub on Thursday morning. If it remains intact, it will be the largest field since 14 started the race in 1977.