by Robert Ferringo - 05/10/2005
"You gotta be down big to win big," said an adrenaline-addled, alcohol-suffused Donny Perotti late Saturday night. "I was like, 'Did that really just happen?'"
Perotti (a.k.a. Donny Blaze) is a former college roommate of mine who once tapped a five-month old quarter-barrel of Bud Light and pounded a glass to win a seven dollar bet. He is also the same man who placed a healthy $100 wager on the 10-18 exacta for the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky. on Saturday, choosing the numbers because his birthday is October 18 (10/18). Now, the odds of him hitting that bet were about as good as the odds of Jenna Jameson winning the Democratic nomination in '08 - but that's exactly what happened when Giacomo, who originated from post 10 at 50-1, held off Closing Argument, who left post 18 at 71-1, to win by a half-length. Giacomo became the second-longest shot to ever win the Kentucky Derby, as only Donerail in 1913 was longer at 91-1, and helped put a tidy $150,000 profit into my friend's pocket.
Donny Blaze's statements afterwards pretty much sum up the one of the wildest and most unexpected betting results of horse racing's last century. Giacomo made a ridiculous run from 18th place early in the race to a spot in victory lane, passing 10 other horses during the last half mile. The California horse finished the mile-and-a-quarter jaunt in 2 minutes, 2.75 seconds, and most assuredly sent more than one "seasoned" gambler scrambling through their mental list of People Who Will Lend Me Money.
When my friend Big Game James called me Saturday night to inform me of Donny's heist, we both agreed that he was probably watching the race from a crooked stool in some dive bar in Connecticut, slugging pitchers and smoking the remnants of cigarettes people left burning in ashtrays. Donny admitted that we weren't far off, and when I asked him what he planned to do with the money the first thing he said was that he wanted to buy his mom a pool with a deck - which she had always wanted. He then mumbled something about sending money to Syracuse University (in six semesters at the $36,000-a-year school he maybe finished four classes), and said he was going to put the rest in the bank (translation: spend it on hookers and blow).
Donny Blaze isn't the only man whose fortunes turned in the early evening on Saturday. The superfecta, which included Afleet Alex, third at 9-2, and Don't Get Mad, fourth at 29-1, paid a stunning $864,253.50 for a $1 bet. There were seven winning tickets sold.
The mere possibility that this type of lunacy can occur in our Free and Democratic Society is precisely what makes the two months between the Derby and the Belmont one of the most interesting and exciting times on a bettor's calendar. But looking ahead, it's a safe bet that this level of Insanity couldn't possibly sustain itself at the Preakness, which will be run in Baltimore at Pimlico on May 22.
Or is it?
Six of the last eight Derby winners have won the Preakness, including the last three in a row. Also, Giamoco's jockey, Racing Hall of Famer Mike Smith, claimed his only other Triple Crown victory aboard Prairie Bayou in the 1993 Preakness.
But it's not going to happen again.
The prevailing attitude after Saturday's race was that the outcome defied all logic, and should be simply chalked up as a statistical anomaly. It was a Buster Douglas moment, and Giacomo's wild ride had more to do with a serious miscalculation by most of the favorites rather than his own domination. Spanish Chestnut - the best decoy since Verbal Kint - posted a 1:09.59 over the first six furlongs at Churchill Downs, which marked the second fastest time for that stretch ever. Several horses, including favorite Bellamy Road, took the bait and tried to keep up with Spanish Chestnut and his suicidal pace. Consequently, one of the five horses behind Spanish Chestnut at the halfway point finished higher than seventh.
Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas, when asked on Sunday by an Associated Press reporter if Giacomo had a shot at the Triple Crown said: "You can chisel this in stone: There will not be a Triple Crown winner. We got too many good horses that will upset the apple cart. The Preakness will be just as unpredictable. With all respect to the horse, (Giacomo) is beatable. He was beatable all spring."
Don't think for a moment that men like Lukas and trainer Nick Zito, who despite claiming a quarter of the field didn't have a horse finish higher than seventh, won't make adjustments at The Preakness, and aren't burning from their embarrassment at Churchill Downs. And while the 14-horse field isn't set yet, but you can bet that Bellamy Road and Afleet Alex will be there, poised to pummel the newly minted champion who just happened to double his win total for the year with his upset on Saturday.
Regardless, it's a safe bet that on May 21, Donny Blaze will again have an interested eye fixed on the events in Baltimore. Only this time he'll be poolside.