04/02/2007 12:00AM

Team holds highest hope for Tiago


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It's the same time, two years later. Trainer John Shirreffs, jockey Mike Smith, and owners Ann and Jerry Moss, who combined to win the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, are hoping to be able to try again, but realize the hill is a bit steeper this time around.

Giacomo was a known quantity, and even though he did not fire his best shot in the Santa Anita Derby, he had done enough - including finishing second in the Hollywood Futurity - to merit a trip to Churchill Downs. Once there, magic happened. This time, they are trying with Giacomo's half-brother Tiago, who will try to earn his way to Kentucky on Saturday when he starts as a longshot in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

Tiago is by Pleasant Tap, and is out of Set Them Free, the Stop the Music dam who produced Giacomo. At this point, that is where the comparisons end. Whereas Giacomo was gray, Tiago is a plain bay. Giacomo was tall and agile, Tiago is wider, a fullback to Giacomo's wide receiver. Tiago has raced just three times, beginning on Dec. 26, and his lone win was earned via disqualification. He most recently was seventh of nine in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on March 3.

On Monday morning at Hollywood Park, with the Mosses watching earnestly, Tiago worked a sharp six furlongs in 1:12.20, the best time of 16 at the distance. With Smith in town for the drill, Tiago broke off several lengths behind barnmate Appealing Sweets, was even with his workmate midway through the drill, then came home sharply. It was a good work, indicative of a colt who has talent, but it may not be fully realized until months from now, and he will be tackling such seasoned rivals as Bwana Bull, Liquidity, and Sam P. on Saturday.

"It's a shame he got started late," Shirreffs said at his barn. "He just hasn't had the opportunity to develop. But the Derby is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a 3-year-old, so we're going to take it as far as we can."

Shirreffs said Tiago got a late start last year because "he was just immature" and because of ankle problems. He said the unusual training situation last summer in Southern California was another factor.

"Last year Hollywood Park was closed in the summer," he said. "Santa Anita was redoing their main track, so you had to be on the training track there, and that's a tough place for a green 2-year-old. Your choice was Del Mar, which is deep and loose the first two weeks, so you don't want to do much there, or the training track at Santa Anita."

Shirreffs stayed at Santa Anita with Tiago, and went slowly.

Entries for the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby will be taken Wednesday morning at Santa Anita. In addition to Bwana Bull, Liquidity, Sam P., and Tiago, the field is expected to include Boutrous, Black Seventeen, Court the King, King of the Roxy, Level Red, and Medici Code.

Sam P. worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 on Sunday at Hollywood Park.