The Pizza Man ‘Back To His Old Self’ En Route To Arlington Million

by | 05.27.2016 | 5:35pm
The Pizza Man wins the 2014 Stars and Stripes Stakes at Arlington Park under Florent Geroux

Midwest Thoroughbreds' The Pizza Man returned to the work tab last month after a short rest in preparation for a summer campaign that could include a prep at Arlington International Racecourse for his return to the Grade I Arlington Million. The 2015 Million winner made his most recent start in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on February 6 following his win in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup last November at Del Mar. After his fifth place finish at Gulfstream, the Illinois-bred was sent to his owner's farm in Florida for some time off.

“After the Hollywood Turf Cup, he went to Fair Grounds [Race Course & Slots] to train, but for some reason just didn't like it,” trainer Roger Brueggemann said. “I had a few horses like that. I probably should have just sent him to the farm then. He doesn't work that well on the dirt, and that's what the turf is like there in Florida, lots of sand and dirt. It wasn't [Javier Castellano's] fault. The horse just didn't have the usual kick. After Gulfstream, we thought he could use the break.”

Bred by his owners, Richard and Karen Papiese of Midwest Thoroughbreds, The Pizza Man began his career at Hawthorne on New Year's Eve 2011. He never factored in his debut; it would be the only time the gelding ran on dirt or in a sprint. Three and a half months later The Pizza Man returned in a 1 1/16-miles turf maiden special weight, which he won by 3¾ lengths. After breaking his maiden he won another five races, with the only loss during his 3-year-old season coming in the Grade III American Derby. In 2013 he wet his feet in three summer stakes at Arlington, finishing the year with wins in the Illinois Owners Stakes and the Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap. After a long winter break, he returned to Arlington with three straight victories in the Black Tie Affair Handicap, the Grade III Stars and Stripes Stakes, and the American St. Leger Stakes. He raced three more times that year to finish his 5-year-old season.

As a 6-year-old, The Pizza Man pushed Illinois racing into the national spotlight. After securing wins in the Opening Verse stakes at Churchill Downs and the Stars and Stripes at Arlington, the local favorite was ridden to victory by Florent Geroux in the 2015 Arlington Million, prevailing by a neck over eventual Eclipse champion Big Blue Kitten. The son of English Channel became the first Illinois-bred to ever win the state's marquee race. Now, at the age of seven, the gelding is aiming to become the first ever back-to-back winner of the Million.

The Pizza Man returned to training at Churchill Downs last month in preparation for an upcoming start in the Grade II Wise Dan there on June 18. Formerly known as the Firecracker, the turf race was renamed in 2016 for the talented and popular gelding that won the race twice, and its distance extended to a mile and one sixteenth. A win in the race would push the gelding's career earnings to over $2,000,000.

“He's training great and coming back to his old self,” Brueggemann remarked. “I'll keep him [at Churchill] until after the Wise Dan, and then probably bring him north with a string to train for the Arlington Handicap or Stars and Stripes Stakes [on Million Preview day July 9].”

The end of the year goal for the Illinois star will be a return to the Grade I Breeders' Cup Turf in November at Santa Anita. The Pizza Man finished a tough fifth in last year's running at Keeneland behind European filly Found and Champion Golden Horn. After the Million his trainer will look to prep the gelding in a manner similar to the previous year, when he started in the Grade I Shadwell Mile at Keeneland four weeks before the Breeders' Cup, possibly with a start over the course in California.

“We hope to find a race for him between the Million and Breeders' Cup,” Brueggemann said. “If a race came up at Santa Anita I would send him – he loves to fly, it doesn't bother him.”

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