One-shot wonder seizes upon favorites' failures
Bellamy Road took a wrong turn. Bandini got bamboozled. Afleet Alex was not quite afleet enough. The three favorites in yesterday's 131st Kentucky Derby were nearly completely shut out of the money at the finish line, with only Afleet Alex managing a third-place finish. Giacomo - a 50-1 shot - won the race, but it might as well have been Topo Gigio for all anyone will remember about this Derby. There won't be any Triple Crown contender this year. Giacomo is no Smarty Jones. Before yesterday he had won only one race. No one would have ventured that he even belonged in this elite field of horses. If this were a sandlot, Giacomo would have been the last horse picked. Now, Bellamy Road would have been among the first picked, as well as Bandini, two of the favorites. Yesterday, though, six horses ran ahead of Bellamy Road. Eighteen horses ran ahead of Bandini. Bellamy Road, as you might have heard a few hundred times this week, is owned by Boss George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees. There were high expectations for Boss George and his horse coming into this race. But, as his trainer, Nick Zito, said, "Great expectations make great disappointments." Not finishing in the money has to be a great disappointment for Boss George - sort of like blowing a three-game lead in the American League Championship Series to the Boston Red Sox last year. Bellamy Road took Boss George for another ride down Heartbreak Highway. He seems to be stuck on Voodoo Highway, with no exit in sight. Boss George is getting pretty familiar with great disappointments -a reaffirmation of the notion that bad things can happen to bad people. Somewhere in Maryland, trainer Michael Dickinson must have had a glass of Guinness - his infamous training liquid for horses - when Giacomo won and Bellamy Road finished seventh. Dickinson had trained Bellamy Road and done well with him, but Boss George fired him in January and replaced him with Zito. "Michael Dickinson does not know what Nick knows about the Derby," Boss George told the Chicago Tribune, referring to Zito's two Derby winners. Here's what everyone knows about Nick Zito and the Kentucky Derby today: He had five horses in yesterday's race - all of them with considerably far better shots to win than Giacomo. None finished in the money. "It's a little bit of a setback, but when you think about what happens in life, it's not that bad," Zito said. I wonder if that's what Joe Torre told Boss George as his team languishes near last place in the AL East. Giacomo winning the Derby and Bellamy Road finishing seventh is the equivalent of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays winning the AL East and the Yankees finishing in the cellar. "Just to have been here was amazing," winning jockey Mike Smith said. "To have won it is like a movie." Not exactly "Seabiscuit," though. Giacomo is not America's horse. He's not even Italy's horse. He is owned by a record company executive - Jerry Moss, the "M" of A&M Records - and named after Sting's son. It's not exactly heart-tugging material. When Giacomo crossed the finish line yesterday, everyone in the press box at Churchill Downs. turned and looked at one another with the expression, "Who the heck was that?" The bigger question was, "Who the heck had that exacta?" As absurd as Giacomo winning was, it was perhaps more ridiculous that Closing Argument, a 70-1 shot, finished second. That means if you had a $2 exacta on Giacomo and Closing Argument, you won $9,815 - a record amount at Churchill Downs. The trifecta paid $133,135. Smith said he was "numb" after the victory. "I can't even tell you how I feel," he said. "When I stood up at the wire, all the feeling left my body." That pretty much described the reaction of the crowd of 156,435 when Giacomo crossed the finish line. On this beautiful Kentucky afternoon - a sharp contrast to the rain that fell last year - the crowd was ready to see something special, and, for a brief second, thought it was when it appeared sentimental choice Afleet Alex was about to win. Afleet Alex's story is Hollywood material. Owned by a group of average Joes from suburban Philly, the horse was nursed from a Coors Light beer bottle as a yearling by the then-9-year-old daughter of breeder John Silvertand, who has cancer of the colon and liver but has outlived a six-month terminal prognosis and says the horse is helping keep him alive. That's a movie. Giacomo winning the Kentucky Derby? That's an Ed Sullivan show. "Eddie ... look, I won the Kentucky Derby. Think Mr. Boss George will give me a contract."