Born to run

Tiago, racing in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, is the half brother of 2005 winner Giacomo

May 02, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — LOUISVILLE, Ky.-- --Think of Tiago as Giacomo, The Sequel.

Same trainer, same mother, same connections. Same result?

Giacomo, a son of Holy Bull, was trainer John Shirreffs' 50-1 Derby winner in 2005. Tiago, a son of Pleasant Tap, is Giacomo's half brother - they are both out of the mare Set Them Free.

Tiago is the star of his trainer's eye and has been getting first-class treatment all week, beginning with his flight from California on Monday, when he was loaded into the front of the plane while Shirreffs took his seat in the back.

Tiago and Giacomo have a number of things in common besides their mother.

Like Giacomo, Tiago is named for the son of a famous musician. Giacomo was named for Sting's son, and Tiago is named for the son of Sergio Mendes, another longtime friend of owner-breeder Jerry Moss, co-founder of A&M Records.

And, like Giacomo, Tiago isn't on anyone's top 10 list. He doesn't have a long list of career wins. In fact, when he won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 7, it was the first time he crossed the finish line first, having scored his maiden victory through disqualification.

Tiago also reunites Giacomo's connections - Shirreffs, owners-breeders Jerry and Ann Moss and Shirreffs' wife, Dottie, who planned the matings that produced both horses.

In California, when Tiago upset Sam P., who is one of trainer Todd Pletcher's five Derby entries, Tiago was as much of a surprise as Giacomo was two years ago, when he won the Kentucky Derby by a half length over Closing Argument.

Bellamy Road was the betting favorite in 2005, and after the Triple Crown was over and Afleet Alex had stolen everyone's heart, many said and continue to say it was Afleet Alex, who finished third by a length to Giacomo, who should have won.

"The only thing that bothers me about what people say about that race is that so many people didn't appreciate what Giacomo did," Shirreffs said. "When I went into the winner's circle that day and looked at that horse's eyes, they were glazed over. That horse had given it every ounce of effort he had. How he pulled that off, I don't know. All I could say was `Wow!' You have to give him credit for what he did."

Giacomo went on to finish a decent third in the Preakness and seventh after what Shirreffs called a rough trip in the Belmont. And then, Shirreffs said, "He was done."

Now comes Tiago, a brown colt who also is catching many by surprise.

"I think to outsiders it might appear he's come around all at once," Shirreffs said. "But not to those of us who know him. We were working hard with him and hoping. And he's been working and improving steadily."

What threw most people off Tiago's trail was a seventh-place finish in the nine-horse, Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes on March 3. But Shirreffs said that race was all about dirt in the face and growing up.

"He'd never had that experience before," the trainer said. "I don't care how many horses you work behind on a synthetic surface, you're never going to have that much dirt fly up in your horse's face.

"In the Lewis, he was buried in it. Some want to duck away. He got upset and tried to run through it and wore himself out. It was a valuable, well-learned lesson, and he came back from it a stronger, more seasoned horse."

Saturday, he'll be ridden by Mike Smith, the same jockey who rode Giacomo. It might all seem like deja vu. But Shirreffs said he doesn't think anything will ever match his first time here two years ago.

"The first time is such a great experience," he said. "Meeting and visiting with other trainers, seeing the other horses, watching all the people on the rail. And we had such nice relationships with everyone involved with Giacomo."

It is so good in Shirreffs' memory he has yet to watch a video replay of the race.

"I just love the feeling I had that day so much," he said. "I revisit it often in my mind. It's like when I was a kid and listened to sports on the radio. I could see the images in my mind. ...

"Dottie asks me, `When are we going to watch Giacomo's tape?' I don't know. I really love the image in my mind."

Shirreffs had turned back the clock. It was Giacomo he was seeing, and he seemed a little taken aback when the next question was about Tiago. Can Tiago be as good as his older brother in Saturday's race?

The trainer looked at his horse, standing with his head out over his stall webbing - which is Giacomo's stall webbing from the Belmont Stakes - grabbing a bit of hay.

"I can," he said and paused. "How can you think that until after the Kentucky Derby? Opinion is one thing; the actual deed is another."

NOTES -- Fair Hill-based Xchanger and Cobalt Blue have been withdrawn from the Derby entry list, opening the doors to Teuflesberg and Imawildandcrazyguy, who were 21st and 22nd, respectively, on the Derby qualifying list. Xchanger's trainer, Mark Shuman, said Circle Z Stables decided it would be unfair to rush Xchanger to the Derby off a two-week turnaround. He now will be aimed for the Preakness. Cobalt Blue's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said owner Merv Griffin was concerned for the horse's mental and physical health and thought it was in his best interest not to tax him over 1 1/4 miles. ... The Derby post draw will be televised at 5 p.m. today on

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