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DON'T DISMISS GIACOMO YET.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI Horse Racing

Now that Giacomo has sampled the experience of actually winning a big race, what if he realizes he likes it?

Let's not be too quick to dismiss the Kentucky Derby upsetter's chances of winning the May 21 Preakness and giving fans a thrill by taking a Triple Crown bid to the June 11 Belmont Stakes.

We've heard all the reasons Giacomo shouldn't repeat the Kentucky Derby win in which he rallied from the back of the pack to win by one-half length over Closing Argument and a length over Afleet Alex.

He was a 50-1 fluke. He was an out-of-the-clouds stretch-runner catching a break when one of the fastest early paces in Derby history killed off the real contenders. His beaten rivals are sure to give better accounts of themselves in the Preakness because Pimlico tends to favor early speed over closers.

Let's take those points one at a time and see if Giacomo is quite the hopeless case that early handicappers of the Preakness might believe.

--A fluke?

You read the 50-1 odds on Giacomo - and the 71-1 on runner-up Closing Argument - and figure they were a couple of claiming horses who wandered into the wrong starting gate. But this wasn't a six-horse race at Hollywood Park in which 50-1 means no chance. This was a 20-horse Derby in which even the long shots have something going for them.

Giacomo was one of the most popular Derby prospects in California in December after he came within a length of handing 2-year-old champion Declan's Moon his first defeat in the Hollywood Juvenile. He kept running just well enough to lose in three Santa Anita races. He finished fourth, between Breeders' Cup winners Wilko and Sweet Catomine, in the Santa Anita Derby.

The oft-maligned Santa Anita Derby received an unimpressive Beyer speed figure of 98, but Wilko's 97 was the highest for a third-place finisher in any of the major Kentucky Derby preps. Maybe the Santa Anita Derby wasn't a bad class test after all.

It would be one thing if long-shot winners of the Kentucky Derby routinely tumbled back to earth in the Preakness.

They don't. In the past half-century, four horses won the Derby at 20-1 or higher and went on to run in Baltimore. Proud Clarion (1967) and Thunder Gulch (1995) finished third in the Preakness, and Charismatic (1999) and War Emblem (2002) won it.

--A pace product?

True enough, as far as it goes, that Giacomo could not have rallied from 18th, about 15 lengths behind the front-runner, if the three-quarter-mile pace of 1:09.59 hadn't cooked favorite Bellamy Road and others.

But let's give Giacomo and his people a little credit. So Giacomo's speed figures haven't been high. Speed isn't the only attribute of a winning racehorse.

He won the Derby because his athleticism enabled him to weave between opponents in the homestretch at Churchill Downs. He won because his versatility allowed the colt who'd been mid-pack early in his Santa Anita races to drop to the back of the field in Louisville before launching his run. And he won because of jockey Mike Smith, who used his experience in 11 previous Derbies to judge the pace perfectly and let Giacomo run his race. He won the Derby because of his fitness, trainer John Shirreffs having prepared him to give the performance of his life on the day it counted.

Fifteen lengths behind the blistering pace, Giacomo ran the first three-quarters of a mile in about 1:12 1/5 seconds. That fraction would have put him in the front half of the field in most Derbies and would have had him dueling for the lead in the Derbies won by Lil E. Tee (1992), Silver Charm (1997) and Charismatic. So in the likely event the pace is different in the Preakness, Giacomo can be closer to the front.

Here's how Derby winners who rallied from 15th or worse have done in the Preakness in the past 50 years: Needles (1956), Ferdinand (1986) and Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) finished second, and Canonero II (1971) and Pleasant Colony (1981) won it.

--Payback time?

Since Derby day, the prospective Preakness field has weakened. Don't Get Mad (fourth) and Buzzards Bay (fifth) are expected to wait for the Belmont, and Bellamy Road (seventh) and Bandini (19th) came up with injuries.

Giacomo will have to beat Closing Argument, who may have run best in the Derby, and Afleet Alex, who gave his fans no reason to give up. The rest of the 16 horses vying for 14 spots in the Preakness are not frightening: Wilko (sixth), High Fly (10th), Greeley's Galaxy (11th), Noble Causeway (14th), Sun King (15th), Going Wild (18th), High Limit (20th), and new faces A.P. Arrow, Galloping Grocer, Golden Man, Hal's Image, Malibu Moonstone and Scrappy T.

For at least another week, Giacomo's team can dream.

He deserves more respect than he's getting.

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OUT OF THE BOX

BY KEVIN MODESTI
COPYRIGHT 2005 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 13, 2005
Words:833
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