The Pizza Man doubled up on International Festival of Racing wins when taking the Arlington Million this year. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)
The first Illinois-bred to win the Arlington Million, The Pizza Man is a fan favorite in his home state and the only horse to win both the Million and the American St. Leger.
With his win in the Arlington Million, The Pizza Man earned a “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series berth to the Breeders’ Cup Longines Turf. It is still up in the air whether he will go or not as he must be supplemented to the Breeders’ Cup (his owner Midwest Thoroughbreds supplemented Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Work All Week last year), but let’s take a look at this very popular horse.
When Florent Geroux dismounted from The Pizza Man after finishing eighth on dirt in the gelding’s debut in 2011, he probably could not have imagined the pair would be where they are now. Moving to turf, The Pizza Man won seven of his next eight starts, but Geroux wasn’t aboard again until the second-to-last win in that string.
The Pizza Man’s Equibase Speed Figures made a jump during that time frame from an 80 in his turf debut to back-to-back 110s in the two ungraded stakes races he won in 2012 and stayed in the triple digits in 2013, other than one bad start in an allowance race.
Trainer Roger Brueggemann has had the talented gelding ready to run every time and, starting in June 2013, The Pizza Man ran strictly in stakes races with strong results. While his first two races in that run were a second and a third, he then reeled off five stakes victories in a row with Geroux earning the regular rider honors on the gelding after winning The Pizza Man his first graded stakes victory in the 2014 Stars and Stripes Stakes at Arlington Park.
After winning the American St. Leger over a field that included seven graded stakes winners, The Pizza Man went into a bit of a dry spell in graded stakes races. Trying Grade 1-level competition, he finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in the fall of 2014 before ending his year with a third in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup in his first trip to California.
THE PIZZA MAN WINNING THE AMERICAN ST. LEGER
However, his 6-year-old season has seen The Pizza Man in top form. Starting his year in the Opening Verse Stakes, The Pizza Man won on the Churchill Downs’ turf course at 1 1/16 miles before repeating his win in the Stars and Stripes.
The Pizza Man was cross-entered in both the American St. Leger and the Arlington Million this year with his connections wanting to have the St. Leger option if The Pizza Man somehow got excluded from the Million. That did not happen, and The Pizza Man loaded into the Million starting gate with 12 other horses, including eight graded stakes winners, with three of those Grade 1 winners.
At the first two calls of the race, The Pizza Man was 10 ¼ and 13 lengths, respectively, behind pacemaker Shining Copper in the ninth position behind the first flight of horses. Geroux asked The Pizza Man to accelerate on the turn and by early stretch he was in third, with only two horses in front of him.
It was a four-way battle through the stretch with Shining Copper trying to hold on, Up With the Birds closing on his inside and The Pizza Man and Big Blue Kitten rallying on the outside.
The Pizza Man outlasted Big Blue Kitten to win the Million by a neck with Big Blue Kitten’s pacemaker Shining Copper finishing only a length behind The Pizza Man in third. The win added a nice tally to his résumé, in his two Arlington International Festival of Racing wins (the American St. Leger and Million), The Pizza Man has beaten a combined 15 graded stakes winners, including four Grade 1 (the highest level of racing) victors.
2015 ARLINGTON MILLION
Video courtesy of Breeders’ Cup World Championships
The Pizza Man tied his highest career Equibase figure with a 119 in the Arlington Million. It should be noted that before the Arlington Million, there was about an hour-long downpour that took the turf from firm in the American St. Leger, which went off at 3:50 p.m. CT, to yielding by the Beverly D. at 5:05 p.m. The rain didn’t quit until after the Beverly D., which left the turf in an interesting state of draining from the downpour for the Million less than an hour later.
Because the Breeders’ Cup will be hosted by Keeneland Race Course this year, where soggy conditions are fairly common during the fall meet, it was probably good for The Pizza Man to have a “test run” on turf like that before the big day.
The Breeders’ Cup Turf is longer than the 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million at 1 ½ miles, but that shouldn’t be an issue for The Pizza Man. He won the 1 ½-mile Stars and Stripes the last two years and, of course, he won last year’s American St. Leger at 1 11/16 miles (about 13.5 furlongs). The biggest Breeders’ Cup worry is if his connections will decide to pay $100,000 fee to nominate him to the Breeders’ Cup so he can run in the race.
The Pizza Man is from the first crop of champion English Channel, who set a new course record at Monmouth Park when winning the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Turf. English Channel is the sire of 19 stakes winners and two champions from 264 starters (as of Aug. 25, 2015) including 2014 Travers Stakes winner V. E. Day and Singapore Cup winner Parranda.
The Pizza Man is one of three winners from as many starters out of the Arlington Park stakes-placed mare I Can Fan Fan, and is far and away her top performer to date. However, her Artie Schiller filly, who was based in Illinois for the first part of her career is a winner of three races and her Mizzen Mast gelding was a winner in Illinois at three.
The Pizza Man’s second dam is Arlington Park stakes winner (are we sensing a theme here yet?) Flower Circle, who was a decent producer in her own right with seven winners. In addition to The Pizza Man, another one of her daughters produced Springfield Stakes winner Sandia Crest.
While there is one more stakes winner under The Pizza Man’s fourth dam (this stakes winner from Canada), The Pizza Man definitely is the best horse to come from that family. But even with all his fame, he is keeping up the family’s proud tradition of winning or placing in stakes races at Arlington Park in front of the hometown crowd.
In a wide-open division that doesn’t have any standouts this year — last year’s champion and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Main Sequence was retired — The Pizza Man figures to have a huge shot in the Breeders’ Cup. His owner, Midwest Thoroughbreds, did nominate Work All Week for the Breeders’ Cup last year and won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with him.
However, Midwest Thoroughreds has stated that the Japan Cup on Nov. 29 is the main goal for The Pizza Man, making it somewhat unlikely he’d run in the Breeders’ Cup less than a month before that race.