- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

BALTIMORE — Giacomo is among the favorites for Saturday’s 130th Preakness Stakes but history says he’s a one-hit wonder.

The Kentucky Derby’s second largest payoff (50-1), Giacomo seeks to join Charismatic as the only Preakness victors among the Derby’s 10 biggest upset winners. Four never came to Pimlico Race Course, three finished third and another fifth. Only Charismatic followed his 1999 Derby win at 31-1 by taking the Preakness as the 8-1 fifth choice.

At the Preakness, Giacomo won’t rebuild your retirement fund by topping a nine-figure superfecta (first four finishers) or buy a beach house with a six-figure triple like the Derby. Even if Giacomo manages to steal another spring classic to edge toward becoming the most unlikely Triple Crown winner since Assault (1946), the “wise guys” among 100,000 expected at Old Hilltop will be lucky to pay their bar tabs should he win.

The no-respect horse comes with more baggage than Jennifer Lopez on vacation. He was 1-for-7 in races before lumbering home in the slowest Derby in six years courtesy of a lightning-fast opening three-quarters mile that cooked anyone near the lead. Giacomo’s only victory was a maiden special weight, meaning he had never beaten another horse with a career victory before the Derby.

Giacomo was a “money burner” who enticed bettors to keep trying him after promising efforts only to deliver more close losses. Who knew he would become a legendary money maker? Even jockey Mike Smith pocketed an extra $10,000 thanks to a $200 win ticket given to him by Giacomo’s owner, Jerry Moss. Otherwise, Smith would have had to settle for his $176,000 winner’s share.

But the railbirds are starting to chirp “what if” while they plan their Preakness wagers. The 14-horse Preakness field includes plenty of Derby disappointments along with four Triple Crown newcomers. Given Red Bullet (2000) is the sole Preakness winner since 1983 that skipped the Derby, Giacomo isn’t facing the same loaded field he met at Churchill Downs. The largest Preakness field since 1992 is willing to try the long shot.

“If I were them, I’d take a shot, go to the gate and run,” Giacomo trainer John Shirreffs said. “Racing is very competitive and the Preakness is one of the most important races in our sport.”

Unfortunately, precedent has Giacomo headed for a lackluster career. For every Sir Barton, Assault and Whirlaway who became Triple Crown champions after showing little beforehand, there are dozens of Stone Streets (1908), Gallahadions (1940) and Proud Clarions (1967) who never validated their Derby triumphs.

Charismatic suffered a career-ending leg injury in the Belmont Stakes after becoming the long-shot club’s only double crown winner. Exterminator won 50 races, but it took 100 trips. His 21 stakes victories are only two fewer than the other nine combined, though.

Giacomo is the Silky Sullivan of his time — a slow starter who makes a powerful midrace move. Silky Sullivan could run down an Olympic sprinter in the stretch. Giacomo passed 16 rivals in the final half mile of the Derby, 10 leaving the last turn, in a rare Triple Crown rally from way back.

Pimlico is famous for favoring front-runners despite “numbers” players denying it. Those watching the daily runnings around Pimlico’s tight turns loath late-comers.

Eight of the last 10 Preakness winners led entering the stretch with the other two just a head back. Charismatic and Red Bullet overcame slow starts, but the Preakness usually goes to those moving with a half mile remaining.

Giacomo’s future is secured. He’ll probably spend next spring in the breeding shed twice daily. However, a Preakness victory might add another zero to the stud fee. Giacomo just has to fool everyone again.

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