Photo: Four Footed Fotos
As a prelude to the Arlington Million & International Festival of Racing, the Million Preview Day gathers turf horses with designs on challenging in some of the biggest turf races in the United States in five weeks time. If they are good enough to win the Arlington Handicap, Stars and Stripes, American Derby, or Modesty Handicap, they are good enough to come back to Arlington Park shooting for one of the big ones on Arlington Million Day. While the winners all made their case to come back next month for the even bigger day, it was rider Florent Geroux who stole the show.
The second of four graded stakes races on the card, the Stars and Stripes Stakes was the marathon of the bunch. Going in, The Pizza Man was known as a middle distance specialist, only once before having run farther than nine furlongs. That one effort, however; came in this very race last year when he finished a good third in the Stars and Stripes. Better than ever now at five, the Illinois-bred son of English Channel left nothing to chance in this year’s edition.
Owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, and trained by Roger Brueggermann, The Pizza Man uncharacteristically went right to the lead, and with early fractions of :26.76, :53.69, and 1:21.18, who can blame his rider Florent Geroux for making the play for the early lead?
The Pizza Man led the nine-horse field furlong after furlong, eventually spurting clear early in the stretch. He had to hold off a final move by O’Prado Ole, who had stalked the winner from the get go, as well as another Illinois-bred making up tons of ground in the middle of the course, though. At the wire, The Pizza Man was best by half-a-length. Last year's runner-up, Suntracer rallied boldly on the far outside to be third, only a neck behind O’Prado Ole.
Geroux and The Pizza Man had to survive a claim of foul from the runner-up for interference a mile from the wire, but the Stewards justly found that there was not enough to change the order.
With the victory, The Pizza Man raised his lifetime turf record to 15-11-1-1, while amassing an equally gaudy mark of 10-7-1-1 over the friendly confines of the Arlington Park turf course. As the 9-5 second choice, The Pizza Man returned $5.60 to his many backers, and completed the 12 furlongs in 2:33.67.
Two races later, in the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap, it was more Florent Geroux, as Hit The Board Stable's I’m Already Sexy once again demonstrated a fondness for the Arlington Park turf course with an exciting win over a large field of 14. Now perfect over this turf course in four tries, the four-year-old daughter of Ready’s Image patiently stalked the early lead of longshot I O Ireland through moderate early fractions. Geroux kept her advances to take over the lead at bay until the field hit the stretch, and when he let her go, the answer was swift. She struck the lead in the stretch, and valiantly got to the wire just before the fast closing pair of Gulsary and Street of Gold.
Photo courtesy of Heidi Carpenter
For Geroux, it concluded a career best day with three graded stakes victories. Besides The Pizza Man and I’m Already Sexy, the native of France scored with Divine Oath in the American Derby.
On his big day, Geroux kept it simple and humble, "When you have the horses, it can be easy."
Final time for the 1 3/16 miles on the firm turf was 1:57.56, as I’m Already Sexy earned her 6th win in 14 career starts. Sent off at 4-1, the Modesty became her second graded stake score, having easily accounted for The Pucker Up over this same course last September. Both performances point her out as a filly deserving of a shot in next month's prestigious Beverly D.