02/27/2006 12:00AM

Giacomo X-factor in Big Cap

Lava Man wins the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 28. He steps up to open company in Saturday's Big Cap.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Over the weekend, several trainers with starters in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap wondered the same thing: what to expect from Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner who is making his second start of the year.

"I like that," Giacomo's trainer, John Shirreffs, said of the attention.

Giacomo is one of 11 probable starters in the Santa Anita Handicap, which is run at 1 1/4 miles. He is the best-known contender in a field that also includes High Limit, who beat Giacomo in the Strub Stakes on Feb. 4; Lava Man, the winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 28; and Spellbinder, the gritty 5-year-old who won his first stakes in the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 5.

High Limit and Lava Man share top weight of 120 pounds, two more than Giacomo. Spellbinder, Wilko, and With Distinction, who were assigned 115 pounds; followed by Texcess at 114; Top This and That at 113; and Fitz Flag, Magnum, and Marenostrum at 112. The actual spread will be fewer than eight pounds, since some riders of the lower-weighted horses cannot tack those amounts.

Most of the top contenders worked over the weekend.

On Saturday, going six furlongs at Hollywood Park, High Limit breezed in 1:12.80, Texcess worked in 1:13, and Lava Man breezed in 1:13.80. On Sunday at Hollywood Park, Wilko worked seven furlongs in 1:25.40, the fastest of four works at the distance, while Giacomo worked five furlongs in 1:00.40.

At Santa Anita on Sunday, With Distinction, second in the San Antonio, worked five furlongs in 1:00.40.

High Limit will be favored in the Big Cap. Trained by Bobby Frankel for Gary and Mary West, High Limit gave his best performance in the Strub at 1 1/8 miles, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Top This and That, who was a half-length in front of Giacomo.

Even though there were five lengths between High Limit and Giacomo at the finish, Frankel respects Giacomo.

"The extra distance is going to help him, too," Frankel said. "It could be a hot pace."

Giacomo, who worked alone on Sunday, benefited from his Strub race, Shirreffs said.

"He looks like he's maturing and filling out like a big horse," he said. "As you train harder and harder, they may put on weight or lose weight, and he's taken his training very well."