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Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Derby runner-up looking to step up in Preakness

By Richard Rosenblatt
Associated Press

BALTIMORE - The morning after the Kentucky Derby, Kiaran McLaughlin stood outside his barn at Churchill Downs wearing the smile of winner. He wasn't, of course, but the trainer didn't mind.

"Not that anybody remembers who finishes second in the Kentucky Derby," he said, "but it was a great thrill for us."

Don't worry, Kiaran. People won't soon forget Closing Argument.

Giacomo may have pulled off the second-biggest upset in Derby history, but Closing Argument was sensational in defeat, losing the lead in the final strides and finishing a half-length back.

In the process, Closing Argument became the highest-priced runner-up in Derby history, returning $70 for a $2 place bet. With Giacomo returning $102.60 to win, the exacta payoff was $9,814.80.

McLaughlin believes he may have a winning ticket for Saturday's Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown. After all, he said, Closing Argument moved forward off his third-place finish in the Blue Grass on April 16.

"I don't know that the horse has to move forward, yet again, to win the Preakness," McLaughlin said. "I would think if he runs that same race, he's going to be awfully tough to beat."

Tim Ritchey, who trains Derby third-place finisher Afleet Alex, said Closing Argument could be tough to catch in the Preakness, which is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the 1 1/4-mile Derby.

"The 3-year-olds that have gone forward, like Giacomo and Closing Argument, and show they can run that far (in the Derby) can run a 1 3-16th miles as well," Ritchey said Wednesday. "Closing Argument is legitimate."

Closing Argument was among 10 Preakness starters arriving Wednesday at Pimlico. The son of Successful Appeal was vanned over from Belmont Park in New York.

"He's in top form,"' exercise rider Danny Wright said after settling Closing Argument into his stall. "He's come out of the race very good and we're all hopeful."

Giacomo arrived from Kentucky, stepping off a horse van about 1:30 p.m., and being led into stall 40, the traditional home of the Derby winner. Trainer John Shirreffs, along with TV cameras and dozens of reporters, watched the gray son of Holy Bull's every move.

"What an honor to go in that stall, what an honor," Shirreffs said, turning to gaze at a sign above the stall that lists 14 former tenants. "Look up, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid ... It's awesome."

Shirreffs, based at Hollywood Park in California, stayed in Kentucky with Giacomo the past few days. He said his colt is coming into the race in excellent shape after a half-mile workout Tuesday, and is set for a gallop around Pimlico on Thursday morning.

"He looks pretty good, he's on his toes a little bit and he's freshened up since the Kentucky Derby," Shirreffs said. "He came out of his breeze well, he shipped well and we'll see how he handles the surface here. I don't think it'll be a problem, but it's always a plus if he likes the track."

The Preakness drew a full field of 14 for the first time since 1992, and Closing Argument will be among the most consistent 3-year-olds in the race.

The bay colt has won three of eight starts for owners Philip and Marcia Cohen, with three runner-up finishes and two thirds. The bottom line is earnings of $986,984 for a colt purchased for $100,000 at a sale for 2-year-olds in training in Ocala, Fla.

Closing Argument had just two starts before the Derby, winning the Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 5 before his next start in the Blue Grass. In between, he missed the Florida Derby with a minor foot bruise, but the time off may have kept the horse fresh for the Triple Crown races.

"I think the one little hiccup of the Florida Derby was actually a plus for us at the end of the day because we ran a winning race," McLaughlin said in assessing the Kentucky Derby.

McLaughlin, who spent 10 years training in Dubai before returning two years ago to open a public stable based at Belmont, also worked for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

"He's been around a lot of Derby horses and around the prep scene," Lukas said ."It wouldn't surprise me if Kiaran's horse ran well because he's an excellent horseman."

It probably won't surprise the bettors, either.