07/20/2006 12:00AM

Giacomo needs a big finish

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Giacomo hits the Del Mar track Thursday morning, getting ready for his start in the San Diego.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Were it not for about two minutes and three seconds of racing in May 2005, Giacomo would be a somewhat anonymous racehorse.

But winning a Kentucky Derby can change a colt's place in history, even if he has accomplished little else. Since the 2005 Kentucky Derby, Giacomo is winless in four starts, a string of losses that have greatly diminished his status in racing.

Over the next few months, trainer John Shirreffs is hoping to change that perspective. Giacomo will go to stud in Kentucky next year, but he will have "three or four" starts this summer and fall, Shirreffs said.

Giacomo's first race in that sequence is Saturday's $300,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, which is run at 1 1/16 miles. The race is a prep to the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 20, and part of a series of races that Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss hope will lead to the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.

"It's important that he runs now," Shirreffs said.

The San Diego Handicap, the day's eighth race, is one of two major stakes on a 10-race program. The sixth race is the $400,000 , a Grade 1 for fillies and mares on turf, which has drawn a strong field.

The Grade 2 San Diego is Giacomo's first start since he finished fifth in the Santa Anita Handicap in March. Shirreffs is not predicting victory in the San Diego. He says that Giacomo needs the start.

"We need a good finish," Shirreffs said.

, who has worked steadily in recent weeks, is a closer who may not be as suited to the San Diego distance of 1 1/16 miles as he would be to a longer race.

"The distance is okay, but the pace is the main thing," Shirreffs said.

The pace scenario may work against Giacomo. Spellbinder is likely to lead, and may not have much company. Several entrants have styles better suited to coming from off the pace.

Shirreffs said that the absence of speed will not change his instructions to jockey Mike Smith, who rode Giacomo in the Kentucky Derby and is the colt's regular rider.

"I'm not a great believer in changing a horse's strategy," Shirreffs said. "We tried that a bit in the Santa Anita Handicap, and it didn't work."

The San Diego field includes six stakes winners in a field of eight. Like Giacomo, several of them need a big performance to prove they belong among the handicap division leaders.

won the San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita in February, and he must prove that stakes win was not an isolated performance. He has lost three subsequent starts, including a sixth in the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park last month.

"If things don't go his way, he doesn't give his best effort," trainer Richard Mandella said. "I'd say he's as good as he was for the San Antonio."

Publication, Southern Africa, and Texcess each is seeking his first stakes win of the year. Papi Chullo and Rathor are after their first stakes win. A victory or even a strong finish in the San Diego would put those runners on course for the Pacific Classic.

is winless in five starts this year, but has been second or third in four stakes. He finished second to Magnum in his last start, the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap on May 29.

Trainer Mike Mitchell said that it is vital that Texcess has an uninterrupted run and does not get caught in traffic, which has happened on occasion this year.

"You have to stay away from stopping him, so racing on the outside is better," Mitchell said.

Despite his winless record in 2006, Mitchell feels Texcess belongs in the San Diego.

"Each race he improves," Mitchell said. "He looks super. I don't see a horse as good. Giacomo has to prove that he's that good."