05/09/2005 12:00AM

Pletcher takes Derby defeat in stride

Mike Smith, celebrating his Derby win aboard Giacomo, liked the colt from the start.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Kentucky Derby remains about the only thing missing from trainer Todd Pletcher's resume as his three runners failed to fire in Saturday's Derby. Pletcher is now winless with 12 Derby starters.

Bandini, the Blue Grass Stakes winner and the third betting choice on Saturday, finished 19th in the field of 20. Flower Alley finished ninth. and Coin Silver was 12th.

Pletcher said Bandini came out of the race with filling in his right front ankle and general stiffness. He was sent Sunday to Ashford Stud in Lexington, Ky., where he was to be evaluated by Dr. Paul Thorpe.

Pletcher said both Coin Silver and Flower Alley came out of their races in good order. None of his three runners is expected to run in the Preakness.

Pletcher said Bandini didn't like the dirt getting kicked in his face and was climbing early in the race.

Jockey John Velazquez, said Pletcher, "was trying to get him to level off and he was just jumping up and down too much."

Pletcher said he felt Coin Silver "came off the turn with a chance and just flattened out the last eighth of a mile." He said that the blinkers he put on Flower Alley for the first time, "seemed to put him in the race a little more than I wanted." Pletcher also noted that Flower Alley got stuck behind a tiring Spanish Chestnut around the five-sixteenths pole.

"Naturally, I'm disappointed any time that we don't win, but it's more disappointing because I felt like we had a legitimate chance," Pletcher said. "Like I've said before, I want to win the Derby - life goes on even if you don't. Hopefully, we'll be back next year and get to try again."

Pletcher did salvage the weekend when Half Ours won the Three Chimneys Juvenile. Pletcher's two previous winners of that race, Limehouse and More Than Ready, both came back to run fourth in the Derby.

Pletcher said Half Ours may be pointed to the Flash Stakes at Belmont on June 10.

Smith liked family resemblance

It was love at first sight for Mike Smith. The first time the jockey saw Giacomo in trainer John Shirreffs's barn last year, he said the colt immediately reminded him of his sire, Smith's all-time favorite horse, Holy Bull.

"His face looks so much like his father," Smith said. "I told John I wanted to ride him. Three or four weeks later, John said he was going to work him and wanted to know if I wanted to get on him. Of course I did."

Thus began a relationship that carried Smith to his first Derby victory on Saturday. Smith's confidence in Giacomo never wavered, right up until Saturday morning, when three guests at Smith's Louisville residence were awakened by the jockey.

"Mike said, 'Everybody get up, we've got a Derby to win,' " said Erin McNamara, who had flown in from California for the race and is a friend of Smith, his agent, Brad Pegram, and Pegram's fiancee, Erica Possemato.

"I had told John when I first got on the horse that this is our Derby horse, and if he gets there, he's going to redeem his daddy," Smith said. Holy Bull finished 12th as the Derby favorite in 1994. "He's so much like his daddy. The way he travels. The way he feels. This could be a movie. I told people that if I could have ridden Bellamy Road, I wouldn't have. I always believed in this colt."

What's in a name?

When Jerry Moss owned A&M Records, he had both the Police and its lead singer, Sting, on his label. Not only did they forge a successful business partnership, but Moss and Sting also became close friends.

Moss bought a Stop the Music filly for $45,000 and named her Set Them Free, after a song by Sting. When she was done racing, Moss kept her as a broodmare. She produced Giacomo, who is named for Sting's 9-year-old son.

Shirreffs goes it alone

John Shirreffs is notorious for rarely getting into a winner's circle photo, preferring to stand off to the side and watch the joy of the owners admiring their winning horse. He made an exception for the Derby, but he did watch the race by himself, at track level, with the grooms and hotwalkers who had brought over all the Derby runners.

"I didn't see much of the race. I was down on track level," Shirreffs said. "I could see that the fractions were very fast. I saw that Giacomo was a little wide going around the first turn. At the three-sixteenths, I saw his white shadow roll coming. I thought, 'Wow, we might hit the board.' Then it was, 'Oh no, we might win it. It was awesome.' "

Frankel: Longshot finish guarantees full fields

Trainer Bobby Frankel, whose High Limit finished last of 20 in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, said it will be hard to keep anybody out of the race from now on after two of the least regarded members of this year's field, Giacomo and Closing Argument, finished first and second.

"There will be 20 horses in the field next year, I don't care if Secretariat shows up," Frankel said on Sunday. "There will probably be 20 in it for the next 10 years until everybody forgets about this one. I guess this kind of a result is what makes the Derby so great and just goes to show how pace makes the race."

Collector's item

Shirreffs is a great fan of racing history. His wife, Dottie, said Shirreffs recently acquired a rare photo autographed by Samuel Riddle, who owned Man o' War.

"John loves Man o' War," she said. "Sam Riddle apparently had a dinner party where he gave every guest a picture of Man o' War that was autographed by Riddle. It was a gift to the guests at the dinner. There's very few of them. John got one. It was expensive, but worth it."

Silence at 'My Old Kentucky Home'

The millions of fans who watched the Derby on NBC Sports may have noticed that even though the University of Louisville band was belting out "My Old Kentucky Home" from its usual spot just inside the turf course, no one in the crowd was singing along.

And for good reason: The ontrack crowd couldn't hear a thing. The sound system that was supposed to amplify the music worked for about the first 15 seconds of the song, then suddenly went dead. Sound then returned for a few more seconds, but that was it. A revered annual tradition, one that typically has thousands of people choking back tears, basically skipped a year.

The band still came through clearly for purposes of the television broadcast, which operates on an independent sound system. Meanwhile, throughout the stands, fans jeered and booed when they realized the glitch was ruining one of their favorite Derby customs.

Churchill vice president John Asher said Monday that one of two power surges that hit the track that day was responsible for the untimely episode.

Winner good for business

Local horse owner and fan Robert "Dean" Cecil enjoyed a memorable Derby Day. Cecil, who watched the Derby from the Twin Spires Gold Room on the sixth floor, bet heavily on Giacomo for one primary reason: Easily the best horse Cecil has owned is Tina Bull, a retired mare by Holy Bull, sire of Giacomo.

Cecil, a builder and Internet entrepreneur from New Haven, Ky., not only bet Giacomo across the board, but also caught the $9,810 exacta by wheeling the colt on top.

Tina Bull, a 5-year-old mare by Holy Bull out of Izana, earned $290,275 in 17 starts. She made her final start in August at Ellis Park and has since been bred to Unbridled's Song. "Obviously if a son of Holy Bull wins the Kentucky Derby, it enhances the value of my mare," said Cecil. "That's why I bet Giacomo in the first place."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee, Jay Privman, and Mike Welsch