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Derby winner gets no respect

Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

BALTIMORE — Giacomo isn't the only Kentucky Derby winner to ever enter the Preakness with plenty to prove.

Remember Charismatic?

Before Giacomo pulled off the second-biggest upset in Derby history at 50-1 odds, there was Charismatic's 1999 Derby shocker at 31-1. When the Preakness rolled around, Charismatic was dismissed at 8-1 — the fifth choice in the field — before defeating favorite Menifee by 1 1/2 lengths.

The love isn't there for Giacomo, either. At least not yet.

Afleet Alex, third in the Derby but just a length behind, was expected to be tabbed the favorite by oddsmaker Frank Carulli at Wednesday's post position draw. High Fly, 10th in the Derby for trainer Nick Zito, could be the second choice, followed by Giacomo.

Trainer John Shirreffs doesn't care about the odds. In fact, he's not surprised the Preakness will have a full field of 14 for the first time since 1992.

''Who am I going to scare off?'' Shirreffs said. ''This is the Triple Crown. Each one is a jewel in the crown. You're not going to scare anybody off.''

Heck, Giacomo hasn't even scared off High Limit, who finished last in the 20-horse Derby field, 44 1/2 lengths behind. Or Going Wild, who was 18th and has lost his last three races by a combined 86 1/4 lengths.

Or four new shooters, including New York-bred gelding Galloping Grocer, winless in five starts over the last seven months, or Hal's Image, 2-for-16.

There could be nine Derby also-rans in Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico. The last Derby winner to face so many familiar faces was — you guessed it! — Charismatic.

While Shirreffs is making his first run through the Triple Crown races, trainer D. Wayne Lukas knows all the angles. He trained Charismatic, and will saddle Going Wild in search of his sixth Preakness victory.

Lukas agrees Charismatic and Giacomo received little respect before the Preakness, but at least his horse — a claimer, no less — came into the Derby after a victory. Giacomo, fourth in the Santa Anita Derby in his last start, entered the Kentucky Derby with only a maiden win last Oct. 22 in seven races.

''They didn't believe it there, either,'' Lukas said of the '99 Preakness, which drew a 13-horse field. ''But Charismatic's race in the Derby was more formful. He came off the Lexington win and then the Derby win and he was on a little bit of a roll. You could make a case for him in the Preakness and he proved it.''

Giacomo's Derby win was ''a little more topsy-turvy,'' he said. ''I don't think this one makes as much sense as Charismatic's did. He (Charismatic) ran down that stretch with authority in the Preakness.''

Giacomo ran down the stretch at Churchill Downs with abandon, weaving past 10 horses and catching Closing Argument in the final strides for a half-length victory.

The Preakness, though, is 1 3/16 miles, a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the 1 1/4-mile Derby. That, Lukas said, could be spell defeat for Giacomo.

''You've got a shorter stretch,'' Lukas said, ''and he needed the whole place to get up (in the Derby). He's going to have to be laying closer. He's going to have to come out of his game a little bit.''

Bob Baffert has a different take. A three-time Derby-Preakness winner with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002, Baffert said Giacomo is the ''hot horse.''

''Look, Charismatic won a wild Derby that year, too, but the bottom line is: A bum does not win the Kentucky Derby,'' said Baffert, who won't have a Preakness starter. ''Giacomo is a serious racehorse. He's moving forward and everybody is moving backward. He's the hot horse and you've got to go with the hot horse.''

Recent history certainly agrees. Six of the last eight Derby winners went on and won the Preakness, only to fall short in the Belmont and leave racing without a Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.

The past three Derby winners — Smarty Jones, Funny Cide and War Emblem — all won the Preakness as the favorite. Giacomo may not be the people's choice, but his Derby proved anything is possible.

''If your horse is in the gate,'' Shirreffs said, ''you have a chance.''



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