Midwest Throroughbreds' 2015 Arlington Million winner The Pizza Man will face some familiar rivals in Saturday's Grade I Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine. The 1½-miles race drew a field of eight, including 2016 Million starters Danish Dynaformer, Wake Forest, and World Approval. The Pizza Man finished sixth in this year's running of the Million only 1½ lengths behind the winner, a head behind Danish Dynaformer in fifth and a neck in front of World Approval in seventh, while Wake Forest finished 10th in the field of 11.
The Million was the fourth start of the season for the 7-year-old Illinois-bred son of English Channel, who hasn't hit the board since his two-length win in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes at Del Mar last November. Trainer Roger Brueggemann says the colt is beginning to pick up the pieces in his training, and believes the gelding would have benefited from a longer rest over the winter as they had done in past seasons.
“He's doing better than he was,” Brueggemann explained. “I keep saying I made a mistake, I should have sent him home and let him have a little bit more of a break like we did before. For some reason, when we went to New Orleans with him he didn't do well. And we just kept going and going, and when we finally decided to quit he only had a month or so off. The year before, we sent him home after Del Mar and he was off for about four or five months. He came to the track last year a much different horse than he did this year. He is a year older, and I know how a year affects me. I think he just didn't get enough time off and it's taken him a little bit longer to get into the swing of things.”
Since the Million, The Pizza Man has turned in two sharp four-furlong works in 48 seconds flat, with his most recent breeze on Sept. 10 earning the best time of the morning from 41 workers at that distance. This will be his second start in the Northern Dancer, with his first coming in 2014 off a win in the American St. Leger at Arlington. Favored in the field of ten as they went to post, the gelding broke well from the rail but failed to show a strong late kick, finishing fifth.
“The first time we went for this race he didn't ship well,” Brueggemann said. “That was one of the first times we started shipping around. We were stabled by the airport and the planes were going over – he was hyper about that. He didn't eat very well. We took him back for [the G1 Canadian International Stakes], and he ran much better. He made the lead about halfway down the stretch, but he moved him too soon. I don't know how long that stretch is but it's really long. That's what I'm concerned about, is him moving too soon.”
“I think if I had to do over again there are two things I'd do different: one, I'd send him home earlier and let him get more of a break,” Brueggemann continued. “Then I'd find a race for him easier for the first time, like we did last year when we started with that overnight stake at Churchill, and let him really get his confidence built up. The Wise Dan at Churchill was a tough one to run him in; really I wanted to run him in the one a few weeks before, but it didn't work out, so that's what we ended up in. So like I said, I made a couple mistakes and now, he's probably starting to come around.”
California-based jockey Flavian Prat will be aboard the Illinois-bred gelding, who is getting close to the $2 million dollar mark in career earnings after 16 wins in 30 lifetime starts. Prat was aboard Wake Forest for his 10th-place finish in the 2016 Arlington Million.
“They say Prat is a good, strong finisher,” Brueggemann said. “Maybe we can both redeem ourselves.”
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