07/19/2006 12:00AM

Giacomo back for more in San Diego

Giacomo will attempt a three- or four-race campaign before the end of the year, including Saturday's $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. The Southern California track opened Wednesday with its usual fun-loving and festive crowd.

DEL MAR, Calif. - More than 14 months after his upset win in the Kentucky Derby and four months since his last start, Giacomo will make a comeback in Saturday's $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

The race is the first of three or four expected starts for Giacomo before the end of the year, when he is scheduled to go to stud in Kentucky. For the rest of the year, the goal for trainer John Shirreffs is to prove that Giacomo is a genuine top-class performer and that his Kentucky Derby win at 50-1 was not a fluke.

Asked if Giacomo has something to prove in the San Diego, Shirreffs said, "We might in a series of races."

Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Giacomo has not started since finishing a dull fifth in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 4. He was beaten 11 1/2 lengths by Lava Man, who has developed into the top older horse in California.

Giacomo has lost four starts since the Kentucky Derby, the best of which were third-place finishes in the Preakness Stakes in May 2005 and the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita in February. The Strub was Giacomo's first start since returning from injury that kept him out of the second half of 2005.

The Grade 2 San Diego Handicap is run at 1 1/16 miles, which may not suit the late-running Giacomo.

"A mile and a sixteenth doesn't play to him anyway," Shirreffs said. "You'd like to see him moving forward. We need a nice finish."

Giacomo is likely to make two starts at this meeting, including the $1 million Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 20. Shirreffs would like to start Giacomo monthly in the build-up to the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

"It's getting time" for a start, Shirreffs said. "We want to get three or four races."

Giacomo resumed working in late spring. At first, Shirreffs was not thrilled with the 4-year-old's efforts, but he has been more enthused in recent weeks. Giacomo has worked six furlongs weekly in the last month.

"I don't know if it's conditioning, but his last three or four works are very good," Shirreffs said.

Frankel's main focus is the East Coast

The one stable absent from many California stakes in recent months has been trainer Bobby Frankel's.

Near the end of the Santa Anita meeting in April, Frankel sent most of his leading horses to his Eastern division. He did not win a stakes at Hollywood Park's spring-summer meeting.

Frankel still has a California stable, which consists mostly of allowance-class horses and maidens. He has sent two horses from his New York stable for stakes on Saturday - Rathor for the San Diego Handicap and Amorama for the John Mabee Handicap for fillies and mares on turf.

Rathor, who ran in England last year, won his first three starts in the United States at Aqueduct and Belmont Park before finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park on July 1.

Amorama, purchased last fall for $1.05 million by Frank Stronach, is winless in four starts this year. She was fourth by a head in her most recent start, the Cozy Blues Stakes at Belmont Park on June 17.

Their performances will dictate how many other horses are sent to California for major races.

"We'll see how they run," Frankel said.

Frankel said that his stable has been affected by injuries in California in recent months, and that several of his clients would prefer to race in New York.

Frankel's most recent stakes winner in California was King's Drama in the San Luis Rey Stakes in late March. King's Drama has made one subsequent start, finishing second to Lava Man in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park in June.

Frankel said King's Drama is out with an injury and will not return to training for another month.

Amorama is Frankel's best chance for a stakes win this weekend. She won the Mabee Handicap last year when trained by Julio Canani.

"She's going really well," Frankel said. "Maybe she'll like the change in atmosphere."

Valenzuela misses opener with back pain

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela took off his mounts on Wednesday because of a back problem, according to his agent, Tom Knust. Valenzuela had mounts in all nine races.

Valenzuela, who has a history of substance-abuse problems, will be drug-tested by California Horse Racing Board investigators, Knust said. Knust said the jockey is fighting a long-term problem with his back. Valenzuela is booked to ride on Friday at Del Mar.

"He's having a chronic problem with his back," Knust said. "He had it injected and it worked for a while. It's something that he needs to have taken care of. If the doctor says he can ride, he'll ride. Whatever the doctor suggests, he'll do."

Knust said Valenzuela was in the Los Angeles area.

Valenzuela, who won the riding title earlier this year at the Santa Anita meeting, finished second to Victor Espinoza at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting that ended on Sunday.

Del Mar Cap on T. H. Approval's agenda

T. H. Approval, the winner of the $159,700 Sunset Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park last Sunday, is likely to make one start at Del Mar this summer, in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on turf on Aug. 27.

Trained by Eduardo Inda for Tadahiro Hotemaha, T. H. Approval won his third stakes in the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap. He finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of Molengao, running 1 1/2 miles on turf in 2:26.65.

T. H. Approval has won the last two runnings of the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at about 1 3/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita.

Inda said T. H. Approval was helped in the Sunset by the ride he got from jockey Alex Solis.

"I could see that Alex got him to relax," Inda said. "He's a little stronger, a better horse than last year."

T. H. Approval, 5, has won 6 of 24 starts to earn $664,708.