Giacomo tallied his first victory since capturing the 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) at odds of 50-1, closing from far back under regular rider Mike Smith to defeat Preachinatthebar by a head in a rousing finish to the $300,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar Saturday.
The 4-year-old gray colt was making his first start in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego since finishing a well-beaten fifth – 11 1/2 lengths behind Lava Man – in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). Trainer John Shirreffs is pointing the son of Holy Bull
to the $1 million Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar Aug. 20, where he could face Lava Man again. The San Diego and Pacific are part of a four-race series that Shirreffs hopes will end with Giacomo in the Breeders' Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Churchill Downs in November.
Most thought the San Diego distance was too short for Giacomo and that he would need the race. That, coupled with a lack of early zip in the seven-horse line-up, allowed the late-running Giacomo to go off as the 9-2 fourth choice. He stopped the clock in a strong time of 1:42.
"I'm just so proud of this horse. He's just amazing," said Smith, the only rider Giacomo has had in his 13-race career. "He's such a big horse and you don't want to get that kind stopped. So I took the overland route.
"I flashed back on the Derby when he made that move. That felt good. He got there, then galloped out strong. But he was blowing when we pulled up. He needed the race. How good is it to need the race and yet still win."
Giacomo becomes the third Kentucky Derby winner to win a race at Del Mar, following Gato del Sol and Ferdinand.
With Spellbinder scratched earlier in the day, it was anyone's guess which horse would set the pace. It turned out to be Preachinatthebar, who set out at a surprisingly fast clip (:22 4/5, :46, 1:09 4/5) while pressured by Rathor, the slight 5-2 favorite. That set things up nicely for Giacomo, who had one horse beaten on the far turn but knocked off his rivals one by one before getting to the wire just in front of Preachinatthebar in the final stride.
"If you're gonna get beat, you got to get beat by a Derby winner," said Bob Baffert, trainer of Preachinatthebar. "We ran our heart out. It's good for Del Mar to watch the Derby winner come back. It was just a shame because our horse ran huge. He took all the heat and shook them off. He's getting better with age."
It was 2 1/4 lengths back to Papi Chullo, ridden by Norberto Arroyo Jr., in third, but they were disqualified and placed last for shutting off Rathor in the stretch. That moved Southern Africa and Alex Solis up to third.
"My horse gave it a good try, but he got to lugging in," Arroyo said. "Then he was lugging in strong."
Giacomo has come in for some harsh criticism as a one-hit wonder since his Derby win (Jerry Moss, his original co-owner and breeder, is one of the founders of A&M Records), but he'd only lost four times since. He ran third, nearly 10 lengths behind Afleet Alex, in the Preakness (gr. I), then came out of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), in which he finished seventh, with bone chips in an ankle and knee. After surgery, he returned eight months later to finish third in Santa Anita's Strub (gr. II) prior to his defeat in the Big 'Cap.
"I was fine with where he was on the backside and when I saw the fractions that all looked good to me," Shirreffs said. "This is just a real thrill that this has all come together.
"I thought that he'd run a good race and I was hoping he'd have a little left at the end. I was happy with all of that. This is just one step but this was a big step today."
Prior to the Derby Giacomo had won just once in seven starts, although he had been quite competitive in all of those races. Giacomo, who is now owned in partnership by Mr. and Mrs. Moss and Stronach Stables, improved his record to 3-2-4 in 13 starts with earnings of $2,202,316.
He paid $11.60, $5 and $3.40, topping a $57.40 exacta with Preachinatthebar, who returned $5.60 and $3.40. Southern Africa, who was forced to wait for running room when trapped along the inside but failed to respond to Solis' urging once he was clear, was $4.80 to show.
Texcess was moved up to fourth, followed by Publication and Rathor, who was forced to steady sharply in upper stretch and then failed to go on.