NEW YORK If trainer John Shirreffs was looking for a ''quiet place'' for Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, he found it.
Unlike the hustle and bustle of the Preakness barn at Pimlico, where the Derby winner always is center stage, Giacomo is preparing for the Belmont Stakes in a peaceful annex behind the barn used by trainer Shug McGaughey for the Phipps family.
No media hordes, no visitors, no flashbulbs and that's exactly how Shirreffs wants it.
''We were looking for a quiet place and this is it,'' Shirreffs said Thursday morning after Giacomo galloped around Belmont Park for the first time. ''What's better than coming to Belmont Park and stabling in the Phipps' barn?''
Of course, had Giacomo won the Preakness and headed into Saturday's Belmont with two-thirds of the Triple Crown under his girth, there would be nowhere to hide, not even in the sequestered grassy enclave in the middle of Belmont's vast barn area.
But after Giacomo finished third behind Afleet Alex in the Preakness, Shirreffs was able to take the same tranquil approach he did before the Derby, when there were few interested in a 50-1 shot.
Shirreffs sent Giacomo back home to California for a little rest and relaxation after the Preakness and to determine whether his 3-year-old gray colt was fit enough to return for the grueling 1 1/2-mile Belmont.
''We needed to refocus and he just needed to be comfortable again,'' Shirreffs said. ''We didn't want to feel like we had to run in the Belmont but, obviously, we wanted to.''
Giacomo, it seems, hasn't lost a step. He had two workouts at Hollywood Park, one at seven furlongs and the other at six furlongs on Sunday the same training schedule Shirreffs employed at Churchill Downs before the Derby.
When the decision was made in favor of the Belmont, jockey Mike Smith knew he'd be climbing aboard a horse sitting on a big race.
''If John says he's doing good, he's doing good,'' Smith said. ''He wouldn't send him all the way here if he wasn't.''
Although Giacomo has won just two of nine races for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, the son of Holy Bull has a running style that suits the sweeping turns of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont perfectly. Not as quick as his sire, who was also ridden by Smith, Giacomo is a relentless runner who always finishes strong.
''Giacomo is a distance horse,'' Shirreffs said. ''When he was going 1 1-16 miles, he looked like he would like 1 1/8 miles. And when he was going 1 1/8 miles he looked like he'd enjoy going 1 1/4 miles. And the same thing with this race, but until you've actually done it, you don't know.
''A mile-and-a-half is a very long, long race for a young horse.''
But for a veteran like Smith, 0-for-9 in the Belmont, the distance seems just right.
''I think that is something he won't mind,'' Smith said. ''After all the races, he's always galloped out strong, always had energy at the end, he's always finishing and nobody's running by him. So that's a good sign. Where it takes us, we'll find out Saturday.''
Giacomo is the 4-1 second choice on the morning line, with Afleet Alex the 6-5 favorite. Reverberate, second in the Peter Pan Stakes two weeks ago, is the third choice at 6-1 and the other eight starters are 12-1 or higher.
In Baltimore, Giacomo spent the week in stall 40 reserved for the Derby winner at the stakes barn, where most of the Preakness starters were stabled. With easy access to the barn, racing fans wandered by during the day for a glimpse and a photo of Giacomo. Shirreffs, on the Triple Crown trail for the first time, tired to be accommodating.
''It was an honor to be in stall 40, but with that comes a lot of traffic,'' he said. ''I tried to let as many people as possible enjoy the experience of Giacomo but by 2 o'clock on Preakness day, people were still coming up and wanting to take pictures. So that's sort of difficult for a horse to have to run in a couple of hours to settle down.''
It's been nearly three weeks since Afleet Alex clipped heels with Scrappy T at the top of the stretch but still won the Preakness by 4 3/4 lengths, with Giacomo nearly 10 lengths behind. Giacomo should be closing at the end of the Belmont, but will he have enough to pull out the victory?
''He doesn't have a real big engine behind,'' Shirreffs said. ''He doesn't have a big kick. He's steady, which is why I think the farther he goes the stronger he gets.''
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