In one of the most stunning upsets in 131 years of the Kentucky Derby, 50-1 Giacomo accomplished yesterday what his more-heralded father...
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In one of the most stunning upsets in 131 years of the Kentucky Derby, 50-1 shot Giacomo accomplished yesterday what his more-heralded father failed to do.
Before the second-largest crowd in Churchill Downs history — 156,435 — Giacomo burst out of a cavalry charge in midstretch and powered to a half-length victory over 71-1 shot Closing Argument.
The gunmetal gray son of Holy Bull, the badly beaten favorite in the 1994 Derby, Giacomo had one prior win, that in a maiden race last year in Southern California. He became the second Derby winner to pay triple digits.
Giacomo’s bottom line: $102.60 for a $2 win bet. The only higher payoff was Donerail at $184.90 in 1913.
The triumph was the biggest in the Hall of Fame career of jockey Mike Smith, who finished 12th on eventual Horse of the Year Holy Bull in one of the most crushing defeats the rider ever endured.
“Honestly, I am so numb,” said Smith, who improved his Derby record to 1 for 12.
As shocking as the first two finishers were, so was the fact that trainer Nick Zito’s five-horse assembly and Todd Pletcher’s trio not only finished out of the money but accounted for eight of the last 14 finishers.
Bellamy Road, the 5-2 favorite after winning New York’s Wood Memorial by 17 ½ lengths, is owned by George Steinbrenner, who also owns the New York Yankees. Zito-trained Bellamy Road was part of a logjam fighting for the lead turning for home before weakening to seventh.
Birth: Kentucky-bred Giacomo was born Feb. 16. The colt’s sire is Holy Bull, who finished 12th as the favorite in the 1994 Derby but was so impressive in his other races that he was voted North America’s 1994 Horse of the Year. Giacomo’s dam is Set Them Free, a multiple stakes winner in the 1990s.
Mediocre first impression: Giacomo made his first start on July 15 at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif., where he finished fifth — beaten 10 ¾ lengths — in a field of nine maidens (nonwinners). He was sent off at 8-1 odds in the 5 ½-furlong race.
Breakthrough victory: Giacomo resurfaced on Oct. 22 in a 1-1/16-mile race at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. Whether it was experience, the added distance or some other factor, Giacomo improved considerably in his second career start and romped by 10 lengths. Until the Kentucky Derby, it was the only win of his career.
Classy effort: Giacomo, at 15-1 odds, was runner-up to highly regarded Declan’s Moon in the Grade I Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 18. He finished a nose ahead of third-place Wilko, who won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park in Texas in his previous start.
The prep leading to the Kentucky Derby: Giacomo was fourth at 7-2 in last month’s Santa Anita Derby, won by 30-1 shot Buzzards Bay.
In the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs: Of the 20 horses in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby, Giacomo was the only one who didn’t have more than one career victory. But jockey Mike Smith guided 50-1 shot Giacomo to a half-length victory over 71-1 shot Closing Argument. John Shirreffs became the third trainer in a row to win the Derby on his first try, extending a trend started by Barclay Tagg (Funny Cide, 2003) and John Servis (Smarty Jones, 2004).
“That’s what makes racing great,” Zito said. “That’s why I salute the winners. Great expectations bring great disappointments, and I was guilty of it again.”
For the third straight year, it was roses for rookies — trainer and owner.
The new sheriff in Derby town is John Shirreffs, a low-profile but respected California horseman reveling in his first Derby.
“When the horse landed (in Louisville), we were behind the van,” Shirreffs said. “And I was just thinking what a great feeling to be coming back to Kentucky with Giacomo, running in the Kentucky Derby and going to Churchill Downs off the plane. I mean, it almost brought tears to my eyes, thinking, ‘Here’s this Kentucky-bred horse and he’s going to the biggest race in Kentucky.’ It was a great feeling.”
Giacomo is named for the son of rock musician Sting. Sting’s records were produced by A&M records, the “M” being Jerry Moss, who bred and owns the Derby winner with his wife, Ann. Giacomo is out of the Mosses’ Stop the Music mare Set Them Free, named for part of the title of a song performed by Sting.
“This is about as up there as you can get,” Jerry Moss said. “It was hit records that got me here, but this is a pretty neat thing.”
Smith has said Giacomo reminds him of Holy Bull the most of any of the progeny he had ridden. But their running styles are different. Holy Bull was pure speed, but he broke flat-footed in the Derby and never made the lead. Meanwhile, Giacomo races from off the pace.
Under mostly sunny skies amid a breezy 76 degrees, the first full field of 20 3-year-olds since 1984 went to the post. The prophecies of a heated pace were borne out as Spanish Chestnut gunned to the lead, going the first quarter-mile in a swift 22.28 seconds, the half-mile in a blazing 45.38 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.59.
Giacomo trailed all but two horses heading into the first turn. In a sensational ride by Smith, Giacomo wove between horses on both turns, faced a crush of horses at the top of the stretch when still in 11th and zigged some more before getting a clear shot at the leaders.
At the top of stretch, Bellamy Road and stablemate High Fly had a slim lead amid a wall of horses. Closing Argument led briefly at the eighth pole as Bellamy Road began backing out. Afleet Alex took his turn in front for a few strides in the final sixteenth of a mile.
But Giacomo had momentum. Still sixth with an eighth of a mile remaining, Smith pounded Giacomo with his left-hand whip to run down Closing Argument and 9-2 second choice Afleet Alex in the final strides. The time for 1 ¼ miles was 2:02.75.
Giacomo had a Derby-record payday of $1,639,600 from a record purse of $2,399,600.
“I am so proud of this horse,” Smith said. “He had to overcome some pretty tricky moves. In the first turn, he got carried out. I had to ease him back, jump heels, save all I could save. I got that done, had to ease out and get around a few more and work my way back down in there on the second turn.
“I had to take a little bumping around and just kept working my way down there to save all I could. I knew I was going to need it; I was so far back. Then I saw a little seam turning for home. I got him to the outside, and he just kept grinding and grinding and wouldn’t stop until he got it.”
Shirreffs said he had trouble picking up Giacomo amid the congestion until past the top of the stretch. “I said, ‘Well, he’s moving,’ ” the trainer recalled. “Then Mike got him to the outside, and he started gobbling up the ground. I said, ‘Wow, he has a chance to hit the board.’ And then, ‘Oh, no, we might even win it!’ It was awesome.”
Don’t Get Mad, with Seattle native Tyler Baze aboard, closed for fourth at 29-1.
Triple Crown: The Preakness, the second leg of the series, will be May 21 at Pimlico in Baltimore.