- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A colt named for a rock star’s son is racing’s newest superstar after delivering the Kentucky Derby’s second biggest shocker.

Giacomo ran down second-choice Afleet Alex and outlasted fellow long shot Closing Argument in the final yards to win the 131st Run for the Roses yesterday before 156,434 at Churchill Downs. Giacomo paid $102.60 while keying a $1.7million Superfecta payoff for the top four finishers. The winning payoff trailed only Donerail’s $184.90 in 1913.

“I’m so numb I can’t tell you how I feel,” jockey Mike Smith said. “When I stood up at the wire, all the feeling left my body.”

Named for British singer Sting’s 9-year-old son, Giacomo, by the colt’s owner — Jerry Moss, who is the M in A&M; Records — the Derby victor entered as a virtual unknown. Only 2 percent of win wagers were on Giacomo.

Giacomo didn’t appear deserving of any support from the second-largest Derby crowd ever after losing six of seven career races. The colt’s sole victory was just a maiden race Oct.22. He was steady in five straight losses but finished just fourth in the Santa Anita Derby on April9.

“I knew Giacomo was a pretty steady performer,” trainer John Shirreffs said. “I didn’t think he peaked yet. I really wasn’t too concerned.”

Giacomo’s half-length victory while covering 11/4 miles in 2:02 3/5 was the slowest Derby winning time in six years despite the fifth-fastest opening three-quarters mile. The colt wiggled through heavy traffic on both turns before Smith took him outside entering the stretch. Given a clear shot, he steadily closed on the leaders before pulling ahead in the final strides.

“He had to overcome some tricky moves,” Smith said. “The second turn, I just kept working my way through. I got him to the outside, and he kept grinding and grinding until he got them.”

It was sweet redemption for Smith, who rode Giacomo’s sire Holy Bull to a 12th-place finish as the 1994 Derby favorite.

“I’ve been touting this colt since I got on him [the first time],” Smith said. “I said he would redeem his father’s name.”

Shirreffs became the third straight first-time Derby conditioner to win the race. He didn’t even know where Giacomo was until seeing the colt’s white shadow roll leaving the final turn. Still, Shirreffs wasn’t expecting to win at first glance.

“He was gobbling up ground,” Shirreffs said. “I said, ‘Wow, we have a chance to hit the board. No, we might even win it.’”

The deepest Derby field in 10 years and the largest since 1984 didn’t see many of the top names factor. Afleet Alex gained a brief lead approaching the wire before failing to repel two outside runners and finishing third. Favored Bellamy Road never pressed the leaders in the stretch, and third-choice Bandini was 19th after a terrible start.

The fast opening three-quarters mile clearly hurt Bellamy Road. He stayed just off the lead until the final turn, then moved to second nearing the stretch. However, he steadily slipped back and was beaten with a sixteenth mile remaining.

“He seemed to handle the track,” jockey Javier Castellano said, “but he just didn’t have it today.”

Afleet Alex nearly matched the feel-good stories of the last two years of Funny Cide (2003) and Smarty Jones (2004). Owned by a Philadelphia quintet of middle-class workers, the colt briefly put his nose ahead at the 16th pole. However, he was simply unable to repel the top two finishers in the final yards and finished one length back.

“I was screaming and hollering for him,” jockey Jeremy Rose said. “You can feel when a horse is giving everything he had. He just had nothing left.”

Trainer Tim Ritchey said Afleet Alex will enter the Preakness Stakes on May21 at Pimlico Race Course.

Trainer Nick Zito didn’t even come close despite five runners that included three highly regarded contenders. Favorite Bellamy Road was seventh as the best finisher of Team Zito’s stable. High Fly was 10th and Noble Causeway 14th.

“I thought I was in good shape,” Zito said. “I was waiting for one of my closers to close and they didn’t. Way it goes.”

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