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Friday, March 3, 2006
Saturday picks

By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com

When America's Race fell apart in midstretch, the 50-1 shot ended up being the last horse standing. The result of the 2005 Kentucky Derby screamed "Fluke!" the morning after, and it still does. Never forget that to win the most hyped race on the planet, you don't have to be a world-beater.

In three races since, Giacomo has done nothing to suggest that he's an important horse. He's 2-for-11 lifetime, a plodder who usually improves his position late without ever looking like a winner. Afleet Alex richly deserved to sweep last year's Triple Crown, but he had a brutal trip on Derby Day while Giacomo stayed out of trouble. Sometimes luck means a lot more than versatility and brilliance.

Yet what he did in those 2 minutes and 2-plus seconds last May 7 at Churchill Downs put Giacomo in the history books forever. You can't take that away from him or his likeable trainer, low-key John Shirreffs.

"I don't know that you can duplicate the first Saturday in May," Shirreffs said Tuesday. "Getting in the gate with 19 other horses and coming through and winning the Derby is so special that it's in another category. It's one of those really special memories that a person has, and I don't know that you can compare it to another one, especially for a trainer in horse racing."

On Saturday, Giacomo will try to elevate his sagging reputation in the West Coast's most prestigious race, the Santa Anita Handicap. The 1 1-4-mile distance is the same as the Derby's, and there should be enough speed to help the deep closer, but I doubt that he's good enough, even with a perfect trip.

Besides the Big 'Cap, there are all kinds of interesting stakes Saturday in Southern California and South Florida. Brother Derek, the West's top Derby contender, tops the Santa Catalina at Santa Anita, where he looks unbettable and probably unbeatable. First Samurai will try 9 furlongs for the first time in the Fountain of Youth Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream, whose card also features sprint champion Silver Train and old favorite Funny Cide.

Last week: The results were mediocre, with one winner (Watershed Event, $6.60) and a second in four picks.

10th race, Santa Anita Handicap
High Limit finished last behind Giacomo in the Derby before easily beating him last time in the Strub Stakes. High Limit showed a new dimension by rating behind a speed duel and won by daylight. Problem is, he had a golden trip in a weak field. I had him that day but I'll switch to Lava Man here. Lava Man, unlike High Limit, has won at 1? miles, and his tuneup win in the Sunshine Millions should set him up well. Watch Giacomo lag early and plod up for third.

1. Lava Man 2. High Limit 3. Giacomo

5th race, Gulfstream, Grade III Honey Fox Handicap (1 1/16 miles, turf)
Wend is at her best on firm ground from a mile to a mile and an eighth (4-for-5) and she looks tough here. The distance is too short for her strongest rival, Honey Ryder, and nobody else looks scary. Wend's four-month break should be no problem for layoff master Bill Mott.

1. Wend 2. Ambitious Cat 3. Honey Ryder

10th race, Gulfstream, Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes (1 1/8 miles)
On pedigree, First Samurai should have no trouble handling 1 1/8 miles, but he gives the impression he doesn't want to go that far. He's never been a very strong finisher, so even though his sire, Giant's Causeway, barely lost the Breeders' Cup Classic, it seems the boy lacks dad's stamina. First Samurai will be wildly overbet, so let's try to knock him off. I'll go with the lightly raced Corinthian, a course/distance allowance winner last out for the exceptionally sharp trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Nine furlongs should be perfect for a son of Pulpit out of an Easy Goer mare. Great Point could hit the board after his intriguing change-of-pace performance in which he went from 12th to second behind the highly regarded Barbaro.

1. Corinthian 2. First Samurai 3. Great Point

4th race, Santa Anita, Grade III Baldwin Stakes (6? furlongs, turf)
Which member of the uncoupled Bobby Frankel entry do you prefer? To Sender might be favored, but Set Alight could be classier, having won a Group III in France at a mile last fall. Da Stoops should be an underlay in his dirt debut. He could get cooked in a hot pace, and he lacks turf breeding. I'll take Set Alight, who may be able to sit and pounce for the brilliant Patrick Valenzuela.

1. Set Alight 2. To Sender 3. The Pharoah

7th race, Santa Anita, Grade I Kilroe Mile Handicap (turf)
As usual, California's winter version of the Breeders' Cup Mile came up deep and tough. Frankel's Cacique has impressive European credentials (three Group wins) and should hold a class edge in his U.S. debut. Drum Major has a bad post (12) but is a very powerful finisher, and the Florida shipper could be a major overlay. Buckland Manor is 8-for-9 in the money on Santa Anita's turf and 8-for-10 on the board at a mile on grass. The rail will aid him, and if he hasn't lost a step or two at age 6, he could be right there at the finish.

1. Cacique 2. Drum Major 3. Buckland Manor