Giacomo walks into the winner's circle with the blanket of roses in 2005. (Photo courtesy Horsephotos.com)
Named after a rock star’s son, it was only fitting that Giacomo made a stir when he stepped on to the world stage.
Giacomo, who was named after Sting’s son, ran decently in Southern California during his pre-Kentucky Derby campaign, placing in all but one of the stakes he entered. Even with that record, Kentucky Derby bettors didn’t have much confidence in the gray colt, sending him off at odds of 50.30-to-1.
But like a rock star, Giacomo made a show of the Kentucky Derby.
He started out in his customary back-of-the-pack position and swept to the front in the final strides to win by a half-length with the top three horses separated by only one length. It was a longshot exacta with Closing Argument, going off at 71.60, finishing second. For the lucky people that picked the pair, they earned $9,814.80 for the exacta with a single $2 win ticket on Giacomo paying $102.60.
“We knew he was improving off each race,” said John Shirreffs, Giacomo’s trainer, after the race. “That's what kept us going.”
After the upset, Giacomo headed to the Preakness Stakes in an attempt to become the fourth consecutive horse to leave Pimlico with a chance at the Triple Crown. The bettors had more faith in Giacomo than two weeks prior, sending him off at 6-1. But Giacomo’s closing kick wasn’t enough and Triple Crown dreams faded when he finished third to eventual champion Afleet Alex.
Regular jockey Mike Smith move Giacomo closer to the front in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes in a different tactic than seen from him before. Giacomo stayed around the fifth position for most of the race and even made it to the lead with a quarter-mile left. But Giacomo hit his limit, fading to seventh while Preakness winner Afleet Alex, third in the Derby, won by seven lengths to capture two of the three legs of the Triple Crown.
After the Belmont, two big pieces of news were announced when Frank Stronach broke the news that he had bought majority breeding rights in Giacomo only days before it was announced Giacomo was out for the rest of the year due to an ankle injury requiring surgery.
Giacomo returned to the track in February 2006, with his connections entering him in the Strub Stakes. He closed from the back of the field but couldn’t get to the front, finishing third in his comeback. The race considered a promising return for Giacomo’s connections, who pitted him against the top California horse in Lava Man in the Santa Anita Handicap. But the move wouldn’t be successful as Giacomo finished a distant fifth, 11 ½ lengths back.
Giacomo’s fifth-place finish marked his fifth loss since the Kentucky Derby and he received another extended break. Like Mariah Carey, Giacomo earned a spot on the No. 1 hits list in 2005 and 2006 when he came back at Del Mar to win the San Diego Handicap.
“I’m just so proud of this horse. He's just amazing,” Smith said. “He's such a big horse and you don't want to get that kind stopped. So I took the overland route. I flashed back on the Derby when he made that move. That felt good. He got there, then galloped out strong.”
Giacomo was unlucky enough to run into Lava Man in his next two starts, finishing fifth in the first rematch and third in the second, the Goodward Breeders’ Cup Handicap. Giacomo finished his career back at the track where his greatest victory occurred when he returned to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Giacomo finished fourth in the race but the placing was a well-earned one. In front of Giacomo was eventual 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor, 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini, and multiple Grade 1 winner Premium Tap.
GIACOMO IN 2013
At the end of that year, Giacomo retired to Adena Springs in Kentucky, where he stood for a stud fee of $12,500.
The stallion’s rocker name carried over to his personality, and the farm learned quickly that things had to be done on the stallion’s terms.
“He was definitely treated like a rock star [at the track] and with that name and the affiliation of Sting and The Police and Mr. [Jerry] Moss and RCA records, it’s quite amusing to see how Giacomo developed this attitude of ‘I’m quite better than you are,’ even to the point where he can be difficult to catch in the paddock,” said Eric Hamelback, general manager at Adena Springs. “If it’s not what he wants to do, we’re going to wait and see at which point he’s going to decide to come in.”
GIACOMO SHOWS OFF IN HIS PADDOCK
After five years of standing in Kentucky, Giacomo moved to Magali Farms in California for the 2012 season where he stood for $5,000. But in 2013, the stallion returned home to the Bluegrass.
“It really became a decision from Mr. Stronach based off of the fact that he is such a good outcross to a lot of our mares,” Hamelback said. “We have another son of Holy Bull but he is a half-brother to Awesome Again so it’s still limited on what mares we can breed to Macho [Uno] from our own breeding program. So it really gave us another avenue for Frank’s horses and Frank is always trying to promote any market that he has a racetrack in, so obviously standing in California was a big testament to the owners out there and they appreciated it for the year. But all-in-all, the ability to breed his own mares was really one of the bigger reasons to bring him back.”
Giacomo has had success in the breeding shed with 198 of his 261 foals to hit the track winning, including a foreign champion and nine stakes winners. But the best thing about Giacomo may be his love of people.
“He’s quite a joy to be around because he’s so expressionistic. He’s very much a people kind of horse,” Hamelback said. “It’s a very unique thing to see him with children, and we’ll give a lot of tours here for the local schools. I think we had a group of 62 kindergarteners that came out around Derby time, we showed them Giacomo and he stood for every one of those children to come up and pet him on his shoulder. He’s a pretty cool horse to be around.”
Giacomo is still a fan favorite for visitors to Adena Springs, with the farm hearing one of two things from his visitors.
“A lot of our tour groups that come through here, either they won a ton of money on him at the Derby or they say ‘he blew up my Pick Six’ but he’s extremely popular,” Hamelback said.
Giacomo may not have captivated fans quite as much as other Derby winners of the decade, but just like his musical connection, he’s one that not many will forget.