Whenever Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, makes a public appearance, whether it be a workout or race, cameras come out en masse because he’s a celebrity among the thoroughbred racing fraternity.
And everyone associated with Giacomo understands that sharing him with the public comes as part of their obligation for his upset victory on May 7, 2005, at 50-1 odds at Churchill Downs.
“It’s really rewarding,” trainer John Shirreffs said. “Even now, it’s, ‘Can I go see Giacomo?’ Being the Derby winner carries so much respect. Everyone likes him, and he’s always been really photogenic.”
Giacomo returns to the races today at Del Mar in the Grade II $300,000 San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.
It will be his first race since a fifth-place finish to Lava Man in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 4.
Giacomo, a 4-year-old gray son of Holy Bull, has won only two races in 12 lifetime starts, but Shirreffs insists his Derby win was no fluke.
“I don’t think you can be anything other than a real good horse to win the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “They’re the best 3-year-olds in the land. He was a 3-year-old that gradually got better and better as he raced.”
Giacomo is set to enter the breeding ranks when the year is complete, standing at Adena Springs in Kentucky. First, though, Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss want to get Giacomo back into peak form.
“We believe when he has his moments, he’s a wonderful racehorse,” Jerry Moss said. “I think the public is smitten with him because he was such a longshot and won such a great prize. If he wins a race or runs well, I think everybody will be knocked out and feel good.”
The goal is to prepare Giacomo for the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will be held on the same track on which he came from behind to win the Kentucky Derby by a half length and paid $102.60.
Giacomo finished third in the Preakness, seventh in the Belmont, then underwent surgery last summer to remove bone chips from both front legs. It was a time in which Shirreffs and Moss saw how the public felt about Giacomo.
“Last year at Del Mar, when he was recovering from surgery, a lot of people came by and wanted to have their picture taken,” Shirreffs said. “It’s really nice when you have the opportunity to share a horse that others love.”
Added Moss: “It’s great for everybody to take photos. It’s a memento they will keep the rest of their lives.”
Jockey Mike Smith, who has ridden Giacomo in each of his 12 starts, will fly in from New York for today’s race, one of four stakes races this weekend at Del Mar.
The top two turf races of the season are set for today and Sunday. First up is the Grade I $400,000 John C. Mabee Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles.
On Sunday is the Grade I $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.
There were four breakdowns of horses Thursday and three have been euthanized in the first three days of the Del Mar meeting, causing concern among horsemen.
“There’s always a chance for injuries, but this week is far more than expected,” said John Harris, a commissioner with the California Horse Racing Board.
Trainer Doug O’Neill, whose Blazing Sunset had to be put down Wednesday after fracturing sesamoid bones in the right front leg during the Oceanside Stakes on the turf, said, “I think it was a freak thing. The horse just took a bad step. I think they’ve done a great job with the dirt and turf.”
Turf superintendent Leif Dickinson said that after consulting with several jockeys, he intends to hold off mowing the Bermuda turf in an attempt to give it as much cushion as possible.
It was a memorable Friday for apprentice jockey Martin Garcia, who won three races, including his first stakes victory at Del Mar, guiding Ces’t Mark, a 2-year-old daughter of Benchmark, to victory in the $134,350 California Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Stakes.