Updated on 09/17/2011 10:26PM

Full house vs. Giacomo

Preakness edition cover

BALTIMORE - John Shirreffs, the trainer of Giacomo, has a succinct reply to those who question whether Giacomo was deserving of wearing the roses two weeks ago at Churchill Downs.

"We feel really good about winning the Kentucky Derby," Shirreffs said.

Get over it, America. Giacomo won. Twenty horses went to the gate in the Derby, 19 finished behind him. The pace might have fried the front-runners, the final half-mile might have been run slower than a trotting qualifier at Rosecroft, and the favorites might not have fired, but on the day, Giacomo was best.

In many circles, however - especially among handicappers - the Derby has been viewed as an aberration. So on Saturday, in the 130th at Pimlico, it will be revealed whether the Derby was a blip in the preconceived rankings of the nation's 3-year-olds, or marked a sea change.

"Handicappers have their job," Shirreffs said Thursday morning at Pimlico. "We have our job. And then the race is run."

Bettors are expected to wager that history will not be repeated. Giacomo is the third choice on the line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, and the fourth choice on the track morning line set by Pimlico's Frank Carulli.

Back in the day, when kids used to play in the street and a car interrupted their ragtag football game, there would be a "do over." Welcome to the Preakness, the "do over" race of the 2005 Triple Crown.

"A lot of horses that faltered in the Derby will probably come back and run big races in the Preakness," said Tim Ritchey, the trainer of Afleet Alex, who has consistently praised Giacomo as being the best horse on the day at Churchill Downs. "Every once in a while in a horse's career - like my horse in the Rebel - there are certain races you just have to kind of throw out. If you analyze a race, don't be afraid to throw out a particular race."

There are plenty of people who hope Ritchey is right. There are horses in this Preakness who finished 14th, 15th, 18th, and 20th in the Derby. Nine horses whom Giacomo defeated at Churchill Downs are back to try again, along with four newcomers to the Triple Crown, for a full field of 14.

But before dismissing Giacomo, consider that six of the last eight winners of the Derby also captured the Preakness. That includes Charismatic, who in 1999 was a 31-1 winner of the Derby and subsequently was dismissed as the fifth choice in the Preakness.

"He came out of the Derby very well," Shirreffs said of Giacomo. "He's been improving all along. But it's such a short time between races until the Preakness, it's hard to gauge where he is."

Giacomo will have to overcome the perception that he is not the best of this crop, and the reality of post 13 in the field of 14. Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith had wanted something much closer to the rail.

The Preakness, the shortest of the Triple Crown races at 1 3/16 miles, is scheduled to go off at 6:15 p.m. Eastern time. It is the 12th race on a marathon 13-race card that begins at 10:30 a.m. and has a scheduled final post of 7:15 p.m, nearly nine hours from start to finish. The Preakness is the final leg of a pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $1 million. The race will be televised live on NBC, beginning at 5 p.m.

The weather has been mild all week and is expected to remain so through Saturday. The National Weather Service is predicting cloudy skies and a high temperature of 73 degrees. There was an 80-percent chance of rain forecast for Friday, but none for Saturday. The announced crowd will be in excess of 100,000.

The Preakness purse is $1 million, with $650,000 going to the winner. But Giacomo is potentially chasing a far richer prize. If he can add the Preakness and June 11 Belmont Stakes to his victory in the Derby, owners Jerry and Ann Moss will receive a $5 million bonus from Visa, which is sponsoring the Triple Crown for the last time.

Giacomo arrived at Pimlico on Wednesday and visited the track for the first time Thursday morning. When he came out of the stakes barn, Jerry Moss shivered.

"I got chills," he said.

Giacomo walked about a half-mile alongside a pony on Thursday, then galloped nearly two miles.

"He seemed relaxed and took it all in stride," Shirreffs said. "I think today was a pretty positive day."

Afleet Alex is starting just inside of Giacomo. He is the favorite on the lines set by both Carulli and Watchmaker, in large part because he has been the most reliable of this crop of 3-year-olds. He was third, beaten by one length, in the Derby, following a victory in the Arkansas Derby.

Closing Argument, who was second in the Derby as the longest shot in the field at 71-1, was among those closest to the hot Derby pace who were still fighting it out at the finish.

The pace of this race should be contested, too, because Galloping Grocer, Going Wild, High Fly, High Limit, and Scrappy T all like to be on or near the lead. But the jockeys who rode speed horses in the Derby are likely to be cognizant of avoiding another nuclear meltdown in the Preakness.

"I don't think we'll have the pace scenario we had in the Derby," Ritchey said. "We're not going to have that suicide pace, I don't think."

Trainer Nick Zito, who had five runners in the Derby, is bringing three back for the Preakness in High Fly, Noble Causeway, and Sun King. High Fly, who also was enveloped in the Derby pace, poked his head in front with a quarter-mile to go, but then tired to finish 10th. Noble Causeway lost his best chance in the Derby coming under the wire the first time, when he was jostled badly between horses and jockey Gary Stevens had no choice but to pull out of a precarious position.

Wilko, who was sixth in the Derby, is seeking to join Timber Country as a winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile who came back at 3 to capture the Preakness.

Malibu Moonshine, a Maryland-based colt who bypassed the Derby, is trained by King Leatherbury, the third-winningest trainer of all time, with more than 6,000 victories.

Galloping Grocer, Hal's Image, and Scrappy T also are newcomers to the Triple Crown. Generally speaking, the elite of the crop compete in the Derby, which is reflected by the fact that 20 of the last 21 Preaknesses have been won by horses who ran in the Derby. Red Bullet, in 2000, is the exception.