The Highlights

  • Former Marlins third base coach Jeff Cox and former Major League catcher Paul Lo Duca get a tip from a jockey on Giacomo, a 50-1 longshot in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.
  • Lo Duca and Cox, with the help of their friend Dave Wielhouwer, hammer Giacomo early and often.
  • Due to a rain delay, the Marlins game and the race start at nearly the same time, but that didn’t keep Lo Duca from enjoying the moment … and a huge payday.

The following is a true story about the time I cashed a huge score in the 2005 Kentucky Derby while playing for the Florida Marlins. I’ve enlisted my good friend, Dave Wielhouwer, to tell the story because it may sound too good to be true coming from me.

At the end of the story you will find a video of me telling my version of the story during an interview in Saratoga, New York.

The Palm Beach Kennel Club

I met Paul Lo Duca in February of 2005. He came to the Palm Beach Kennel Club with a mutual friend of ours, Jeff Cox, who was the third-base coach for the Marlins at the time. Coxy is a great guy and the type of fella who always has a good story to tell.

 

During spring training, I would hang out with my buddies Coxy and Paul, betting various tracks and races via simulcast at the Kennel Club. Late in March I was making some bets in the last Derby Futures Pool. I was down to my last $5 and Paul came over to me.

“What number is Giacomo?”

He then punched in a five-dollar future bet on Giacomo for me.

An Inside Tip

He told me he was friends with jockey Mike Smith and that Mike really thought Giacomo had a chance to win the Derby. When I inquired about the Santa Anita Derby — where Giacomo finished fourth — Paul said to throw that race out because there was no pace to run at. He told me The Derby would provide plenty of pace and Giacomo will have a horse to run down.

On Derby Day I was at Calder Race Track in Miami with my friend Dave Srail. At 11:30 a.m., Cox stopped in to talk over a few bets for himself, gave me a wad of cash and said, “I will call you when I get back to the ballpark and tell you what to bet.”

A few hours later he called me with some Pick 4s and Trifectas. He bet enough money to feed a third-world country. It was clear he was giving me Paul’s bets, because Coxy doesn’t bet that much. Paul was sending it in, and he was sending it in on Giacomo, a 50-1 longshot.

 

If you’ve ever watched the festivities at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, you know that not only is the Derby a great race, but the undercard is full of champion horses. In the Churchill Downs Distaff, Paul and Coxy needed Madcap Escapade to win. If she did, they had a $200 pick 4 to all (any horse in turf classic) to Giacomo. Unfortunately Madcap Escapade didn’t win. Lots of bombs won that day … but the biggest bomb was yet to come.

Down the Stretch They Come

The Derby start time is usually a few minutes after 6 p.m. ET. Horse racing doesn’t have exact starting times, nor could it because horses can be stubborn or get loose or need new shoes … so post time is always approximate.

On this particular day, the weather in Miami was uncooperative and the Marlins game at the old Joe Robbie Stadium (Hard Rock Stadium) was delayed. The first pitch was set for right around post-time at Churchill Downs. Not ideal for Paul or Coxy.

This particular Derby was mayhem from the get-go. The sprinters tried to steal the race, but they faltered. The stalkers then took over, but they didn’t last. Afleet Alex had the lead deep into the stretch, but gave it up at the last second.  I turned to my friend.

“Did Giacomo just win?”

We both looked at each other and said, “Paul.”

Calling It In

I would never normally do this, but I called the Marlins’ clubhouse right after the race. The horses had barely crossed the wire and I’m dialing the clubhouse. Jeff Silverman was the clubbie for the Fish at the time, and I got his number from my buddy Jeff, who had gotten me tickets the year Florida won the World Series.

I had never spoken to Silverman before, but I told him I needed to relay a message to Paul Lo Duca. He started to tell me that they were playing a baseball game and a message about the Derby wasn’t appropriate at the time.

Then, I heard some yelling in the background. It was Paul. He had either seen the replay or the end of the race and he was going nuts. I just hung up the phone. Paul knew and he was pumped.

 

I remember at the time thinking, “I wish I hadn’t called the clubhouse.” But now that I’m good buddies with Paul, I’m glad I did. It makes for a great story.

I didn’t have all of Paul’s bets in my hands at the time, but I had some. I had to meet Coxy after the game. If Madcap Escapade had won, they would have hit the pick-4 200 times. That easily would have been a quarter-million dollars.

But don’t feel bad for Paul, he bet Giacomo across the board. He bet him heavy and he bet him often. As for me, you would have thought I’d listen to my buddy, but I had only that $5 future bet at 45-1 and a $2 win bet at 50-1.

The Derby is just as exciting to me 13 years later, but you’ll notice horses are very rarely listed at 50-1. Some people think it’s because the public is betting down the longshots, but I call it “The Giacomo Effect.”

— Dave Wielhouwer

 

Photo: An exercise rider works out a horse at Churchill Downs. Credit: Jamie Rhodes, USA TODAY Sports