2005: Giacomo

Sunday, May 08, 2005
By Maryjean Wall, Herald-Leader Racing Writer
Beyond the golden glint of Giacomo’s Kentucky Derby trophy shining yesterday at Churchill Downs lay the green of cash awaiting pickup at the betting windows.
A North American record $864,253.50 superfecta payout for the seven $1 tickets sold on the first four to cross the finish in this 131st Derby: Giacomo; Closing Argument; Afleet Alex; Don’t Get Mad.Churchill Downs said the seven tickets were sold in Maine, at Philadelphia Park, at Turf Paradise in Arizona, in Nevada, in New England and two in New Jersey.
The first four to cross the wire surprised the Derby crowd of 156,435, second largest behind the 1975 Derby attendance. Bettors had made Bellamy Road the 2-1 favorite in the 20-horse field — but he finished a fading seventh.
Then, after 50-1 Giacomo had come from out of nowhere to win, surprise turned quickly to amazement as payoff prices began appearing on the tote board.
Giacomo, who had won only one other race in his career, returned the second-highest win mutuel in Derby history, $102.80. Only Donerail’s $184.90 payoff in 1913 stands higher.
Closing Argument’s place and show mutuels — $70 and $24.80 — rounded out the huge payoffs: a $2 exacta worth $9,814.80 and a $2 trifecta (with Afleet Alex completing the wager) that returned another North American record: $133,134.80.
The superfecta payoff appeared on the tote as a $2 wager, registering at $1.7 million. But half of that for a $1 bet won’t be too shabby.
Of their luck yesterday and in the horse business in general, “It’s been quite amazing,” said Jerome S. Moss, who with his wife, Ann Moss, owns the winner and bred him in Kentucky, from their mare called Set Them Free.
“Amazing” hardly told this chapter in this story, however.
Giacomo is a son of Holy Bull, whose surprising loss in the Kentucky Derby (12th in 1994) remains a conversation topic to this day. He simply wasn’t expected to lose.
Mike Smith rode Holy Bull that day. And yesterday he rode Giacomo for the jockey’s first win in 12 attempts to win the Derby.
The Mosses, as well as trainer John Shirreffs, all were racing in the Derby for the first time. The Mosses, of Los Angeles, own about 75 thoroughbreds and won the 1994 Kentucky Oaks with Sardula. But this win, with Giacomo, capped off their success at the track.
Off-track, Moss was the co-founder of A&M Records, which he and partner Herb Alpert of the Tijuana Brass sold in 1990.
The record company’s hits included one called The Lonely Bull: an omen if there ever was one, in reference to Giacomo’s sire, Holy Bull.
More significantly, Giacomo the horse was named for the son of recording artist Sting — and Sting several years ago released a song titled Desert Rose.
Knowing this, one would almost have to say Giacomo’s destiny was to win the Derby. Most Derby watchers, however, failed to see destiny staring back at them through long shot Giacomo.
Hence the record payoffs that will mark this Derby.
Smith, the jockey, reminded all that he’d said from the start that Giacomo could win the Derby. Giacomo’s only other win came last October, at Santa Anita, yet Smith, Shirreffs and the Mosses kept the faith.
Belief is one thing; reality another. Realization that he’d won the Derby hit Smith so hard when he crossed the finish that, “my legs buckled,” the jockey said.
Smith was a half-length clear of Closing Argument and had stopped the Derby clock in 2:02.75, after coming from 18th place to wrest the lead close to the finish.
Still, said Smith, “when I stood up at the wire, all the strength left my body.” This, from a Hall of Famer whose legs had reacted as though he’d just won his first career race.
Giacomo’s winning move was, quite simply, in his lucky trip and in that old adage that holds that a horse can win from off the pace when the fractions are too fast up front.
Spanish Chestnut set the early pace while closely chased by Going Wild. And the pace was fast.
The quarter-mile, run in :22.28, was the seventh-fastest in Derby history; the half-mile, raced in :45.38, was the fourth-fastest ever. When Spanish Chestnut arrived at the three-quarter marker in 1:09.59, he’d run the second-fastest 6 furlongs in the Derby’s 131 runnings.
So, where was Giacomo throughout this? Overcoming trouble, to say the least.
On the Derby’s first turn, “he got carried out and (I) had to ease him back,” said Smith, adding that he had to “jump heels” of other horses who were packed so close that the heels of their hind feet were in his face. He had more trouble on the second turn.
Bellamy Road, the favorite, stalked Spanish Chestnut and Going Wild through the first half-mile before Flower Alley showed up to pass him and Going Wild. All the while, Giacomo was still racing third-to-last.
Spanish Chestnut’s race was over for him by the mile marker, where High Fly had moved up from third to take the lead. High Fly had barely taken the lead when Bellamy Road rushed up alongside him and Bellamy Road appeared, briefly, like he was poised to race on ahead.
Not so. Bellamy Road backed off on the far turn to third at the head of the
stretch: still close, but behind Afleet Alex now, and behind the new leader, Closing Argument.
Giacomo was sixth at the top of the stretch, then he swooped down on Afleet Alex and Closing Argument to wrest the lead near the finish. The winner drew ahead by half a length at the wire. Just in time, to win the 131st Kentucky Derby.

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