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Shirreffs Discovers Perfect Match

Giacomo's trainer has found love, marriage and success on the track since joining Moss team.

May 20, 2005|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE — When Dottie Ingordo went to Hollywood Park in June 2000 to interview John Shirreffs as a possible trainer for her clients, Jerry and Ann Moss, it struck her that it might be difficult. She didn't know what Shirreffs looked like.

It worked out OK. A few days later, Shirreffs was given the job

Shirreffs, who will be 60 on June 1, remembers their first date.

"She was wearing -- what is it? -- a short pair of those culottes," Shirreffs said. "I never could resist a good set of legs."

These days, a certain set of four legs is consuming Shirreffs, his wife of 17 months and the Mosses. They belong to Giacomo, a gray colt who two weeks ago won the Kentucky Derby and on Saturday at Pimlico will try to win the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Except for jockey Mike Smith, who won his first Derby on his 12th try, and who won the 1993 Preakness with Prairie Bayou, this is a coming-out party for the Giacomo contingent. The Mosses and Shirreffs had never run a horse in a Triple Crown race.

There had been good horses -- Ruhlmann won the Santa Anita Handicap in 1990 and Sardula won the Kentucky Oaks four years later -- but none to compare with Giacomo, a Moss-bred horse who has been with Shirreffs from the beginning, running fifth in his first race at Hollywood Park in July and breaking his maiden in his next start, three months later, at Santa Anita.

Shirreffs first thought he might have a Derby contender in December when Giacomo, in his fourth start, finished second, a length behind the highly regarded Declan's Moon, in the Hollywood Futurity.

Ingordo, who has worked for the Mosses for 20 years, is a former fourth-grade teacher who was married to the late Jerry Ingordo, a jockey agent who represented Pat Valenzuela early in his career. Bobby Frankel, who once trained for the Mosses, recommended Dottie Ingordo to them in 1985.

Since Frankel, trainers employed by the Mosses have included Charlie Whittingham, Brian Mayberry and Ron McAnally. Five years ago, they sent Ingordo to interview Shirreffs, on the recommendation of Ingordo's son David, who was then a 19-year-old animal-science major at the University of Kentucky and working during the summer for the veterinarian who treated Shirreffs' horses.

"David had been around John's barn a lot, and thought he was the kind of guy who would be comfortable working with me, Jerry and Ann," Dottie Ingordo said.

Shirreffs, who had been the private trainer for the 505 Farms of Marshall Naify and Eddie Nahem, was without a major client and down to a handful of horses. Naify had died and there was a dispersal sale of his horses, including Manistique, the filly whom Shirreffs had trained to win six graded stakes in 1999.

A little more than three years later, in December 2003, Shirreffs and Ingordo went to a courthouse in Inglewood, not far from Hollywood Park, to get married. They were on a tight schedule because Shirreffs had to saddle a horse running in the sixth race.

"There were several couples ahead of us," Ingordo said, "but when they heard we were in a hurry, they were nice enough to step aside."

The soft-spoken, affable Shirreffs, seldom seen without a blue baseball cap with the Mill Ridge Farm name on it, was asked by his future wife to keep the cap on during the ceremony.

"That cap is John," Ingordo said. "I wasn't going to go through with it if he didn't keep that cap on."

Ingordo would appear to be wearing a couple of hats herself, as the liaison between the Mosses and her husband.

"There's been no conflict of interest," she said. "I'm a very objective person. All four of us have the same philosophy, and there have been no problems."

Giacomo, only the fourth Derby winner since 1955 not to have won an earlier race as a 3-year-old, was winless in three starts after the Hollywood Futurity, but he finished third, second and fourth and Shirreffs was never discouraged.

"John Shirreffs is an amazing trainer," jockey Smith said. "Every race was just a little step forward, a little step forward, a little step forward. He wanted him exactly right" for the Derby.

Shirreffs didn't ship Giacomo from California to Kentucky until three days before the race, and then this week kept the colt at Churchill Downs until Wednesday.

"I didn't want to break up the routine," Shirreffs said. "I'm very proud of what's happened, but who knows what will happen here? A lot will depend on how a horse handles the surface."

When Giacomo arrived at Pimlico, Shirreffs began helping stable hands move trucks, suitcases and boxes into the tack room at the stakes barn. Someone kidded him about being tipped a dollar an item. Giacomo settled into stall 40, where 14 Preakness winners, including Smarty Jones last year, have bedded down.

When Shirreffs, a Vietnam Marine veteran who began training in 1978, pulled into Churchill Downs earlier this month, he had to hold back tears. At Pimlico, there was awe.

"You looking at the names of the horses who have been in that stall," he said. "Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid. What an honor it is for my horse to be there too."


Second Of June, one of the horses quarantined at Churchill Downs because of the herpes outbreak, has been scratched from today's $500,000 Pimlico Special. Funny Cide, returning to the track where he won the 2003 Preakness, is the 120-pound high weight. Also running are Badge Of Silver, Eddington, Pollard's Vision and Offlee Wild.... In other stakes today, Ashado will be odds-on in the $150,000 Pimlico Distaff Handicap and Runway Model and Spun Sugar head the field in the $200,000 Black Eyed Susan.

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