02/06/2006 1:00AM

Giacomo's race pleases Shirreffs

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The third-place finish by the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, Giacomo, in Saturday's Strub Stakes at Santa Anita may have disappointed many of the ontrack crowd of 20,263, but not trainer John Shirreffs.

Making his first start in nearly eight months, Giacomo rallied from 10th in the field of 11 to finish third, five lengths behind the impressive winner, High Limit. The Strub result was something of a preview of the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 4, a race that will also feature the Strub runner-up, Top This and That.

"I'll go home very happy," Shirreffs said an hour after the race. "If we wanted to run in the Santa Anita Handicap, we needed to run sometime. It was time to do it and a good time for the horse and everybody involved. This was a good day to come back."

Giacomo had not started since finishing seventh in the Belmont Stakes last June. A week after that race, he underwent surgery to have bone chips removed from an ankle and knee.

In the Strub, Giacomo did most of his running in the last half-mile, closing from 10th to fourth by the eighth pole. Ridden by Mike Smith, Giacomo rallied around a tiring pacesetter Ice Cole in deep stretch but could not get to Top This and That.

"I'm sure he could have been second," Shirreffs said. "That's his style - he comes between horses and has to deal with all that.

"I wanted to see him run and finish well, and he did that. Giacomo's strength, as you saw in the Derby, is he grinds it out. He keeps coming and coming."

The Santa Anita Handicap, which is run at 1 1/4 miles, will lack a standout.

High Limit has never won at that distance. Owned by Gary and Mary West and trained by Bobby Frankel, High Limit finished last of 20 in the 2005 Kentucky Derby. He lost four more starts in 2005 but rebounded to win the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap in his 2006 debut on Jan. 7.

Frankel dismisses High Limit's performance in the Kentucky Derby, blaming himself.

"It was a rush job and I tried to get him ready for the big dance," he said. "I was lucky he came out in one piece."

Top This and That ran an outstanding race to be second in the Strub. A California-bred gelding, he was somewhat overlooked in postrace discussions.

"All they talked about was the winner and the third-place horse," trainer Dan Hendricks said, in mock exasperation. "He was ready to go a mile and an eighth."

Hendricks said he would like Alex Solis to ride Top This and That in the Santa Anita Handicap, even if the gelding gets a weight assignment below Solis's minimum of 116 pounds.

"I won't take him off for a pound or two," Hendricks said of Solis.

The Big Cap will include two starters owned by Jerry and Ann Moss - Giacomo and Spellbinder, the winner of Sunday's San Antonio Handicap. Borrego, the winner of two Grade 1 stakes last summer and fall, and Lava Man also are expected to run.

Mister Triester earns Crown listing

The eye-catching maiden win by Mister Triester in Friday's sixth race will result in the colt being nominated for $6,000 to the Triple Crown when the second nomination stage closes next month. Up until that one-mile race, it would not have seemed like money well spent.

After losing his first five starts, all sprints, Mister Triester seemed to thrive at the longer distance. Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Mister Triester stalked the pace to early stretch before pulling clear to win by four lengths, easily drawing off to beat the 1-2 favorite, Royal Legacy.

"He wasn't too good going short," said trainer Warren Stute. "I liked the way he finished."

Mister Triester had finished fifth in a maiden race on Dec. 26, which has proven to be a productive race. The race was won by Cindago, and four of the horses who finished behind him have returned to win.

Glen Stute, who assists Warren Stute, his 84-year-old father, said the longer distance of Friday's race was important for Mister Triester, who is owned by B. Wayne Hughes.

"My dad didn't give up on him," Glen Stute said. "That was the key."

Mister Triester is likely to start in an allowance race later this month, Glen Stute said.

"He rebroke. When he broke his maiden, he was like that," he said, referring to a sprint at Del Mar last summer.

Females have pair of Grade 1's

The forthcoming weekend is highlighted by two Grade 1 races worth $250,000 for females on Saturday - the Santa Maria for older fillies and mares and the Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

The Santa Maria, run at 1 1/16 miles, will have a small field that includes the stakes winners Healthy Addiction and Hollywood Story.

The Las Virgenes Stakes, run at a mile, will feature Balance, Dance Daily, Diplomat Lady, Itty Bitty Pretty, Talullah Lula, and Wild Fit.

Sunday's top race is the $200,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies. Pussycat Doll, the winner of the La Brea Stakes in December, will face Paddy's Daisy, Play Ballady, Proposed, Sharp Lisa, and Skipping Court.

Nakatani takes off mounts

Corey Nakatani took off his mounts following Saturday's first race after being unseated from the first-race winner, Hot Melody, near the winner's circle. Hot Melody became unruly just before being led into the winner's circle.

Nakatani worked horses on turf on Sunday morning, but said after those workouts that he was still sore from the incident on Saturday.

* Brother Derek, who won the San Rafael Stakes on Jan. 14, breezed a half-mile in 49.40 seconds at Santa Anita on Sunday. It was his first workout since the San Rafael.

* One Union, who won an allowance race here Friday, will be pointed for the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 18, said his trainer, Richard Mandella. The colt was making his first start around two turns in Friday's allowance race.

* Sunday's first race produced a racing rarity. Runner-up Out of the Barn finished second at 124-1, paying $108.80 to place. Place payoffs seldom reach such levels. Race winner Bell Irish returned $39.40 to win.