Tiago Hopes To Follow In Hoof Steps Of Half Brother Giacomo

Tuesday, May 1st 2007, 3:02 pm
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ John Shirreffs had to jump around. He just couldn't help it.

The normally reserved trainer turns bashful when recalling his jubilant burst through the Churchill Downs grandstand two years ago after 50-1 shot Giacomo pulled off the second-biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith expertly picked off horses down the stretch to win in the final yards.

``I just tried to not step on the person next to me,'' Shirreffs said Tuesday. ``I didn't think I could get that excited, to be honest.''

It's a moment etched in Shirreffs' memory, one he hopes to relive Saturday when Giacomo's half brother, Tiago, heads to the post in this year's Derby.

The similarities are striking. The two horses come from the same dam _ Set Them Free _ with different sires: Giacomo from Holy Bull, Tiago from Pleasant Tap. Both are owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, ridden by Smith and trained by Shirreffs, the soft-spoken Southern Californian who just smiles when contemplating another unexpected run for the roses.

``There's so many little connections, it's just great,'' he said.

Alike in temperament if not experience, Shirreffs can see some of Tiago's older sibling in his 3-year-old chestnut colt, who won the Santa Anita Derby last month.

``Both are very focused and intense horses but they're not real nervous types,'' Shirreffs said. ``They're really racehorses. They love to run.''

Giacomo cemented his legend in the stretch at the Derby, roaring from 11th to victory in the final quarter-mile. It's a move Tiago repeated in winning the Santa Anita Derby, as Smith moved Tiago wide to get some room then ducked to the rail to edge King of the Roxy by a half-length.

It's a victory Shirreffs credited to Smith, who seemed to find the common ground between the two horses, using the experience he gained on Giacomo to figure out his still-maturing half brother.

``We really didn't know what sort of style he was going to have because he had a little more speed, a little more kick than Giacomo,'' Shirreffs said. ``With Mike taking him out, letting him relax first then letting him out a notch and then another notch he was able to show his style.''

It's a style that Shirreffs hopes can make up for a lack of substance in Tiago's resume. While Giacomo raced seven times before the Derby, this year's race will be just the fifth start of Tiago's career.

``As a 2-year-old he was a little immature,'' Shirreffs said. ``Mentally he was good; physically his body wasn't ready for the rigors of racing.''

It didn't take him long to adapt. Tiago won his first race at Santa Anita in January in his second career start after stumbling in the early going.

``He got stopped in that race,'' Shirreffs said. ``You're talking about the maturity level, for a horse in his second race to mature and be able to recover and come back showed a lot.''

Still, it didn't stop him from growing concerned when Tiago got trapped on the rail in the Robert Lewis Stakes in March, fading to seventh while struggling to adjust to ``dirt getting kicked in his face,'' as Shirreffs put it.

``We were kind of at a loss,'' he said.

Shirreffs put a call in to Smith and asked him to take a stab at figuring out the colt. A mile into the Santa Anita Derby, Smith seemed to recapture the magic that he'd had with Giacomo, pushing all the right buttons as Tiago recalled memories of that glorious Saturday two years ago and gave Shirreffs hope that history might be repeating itself.

``He's made huge leaps,'' Shirreffs said. ``He's well-seasoned now and we think he's ready to race.''