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On the Air with Dr. Derby

Midwest Thoroughbreds and The Pizza Man back for more

The Pizza Man AP 615 X 400
Photo: Four Footed Fotos

It’s a brand new year, which for many means countless New Year’s resolutions. For some it's exercise and diet, for others it could be spending more time with family. For the connections of The Pizza Man and his growing legions of fans, the new year brings endless possibilities that will hopefully conclude with the Eclipse award that many thought he deserved in 2015.


I recently had a chance to catch up with Richard Papiese who, along with his wife Karen, race their horses under the name Midwest Thoroughbreds, to talk about their stable star and other doings that revolve around their operation. Midwest Thoroughbreds of course won 542 races in 2012 breaking the 38 year-old record, and are five time Eclipse Award finalists for owner of the year.


When we last saw him, The Pizza Man scored a convincing win when rallying from 11th in a 14 horse field to close strongly in the stretch to take home the Hollywood Turf Cup (Gr2). With this win, the then six year old gelding ran his career record to a stellar 25-16-2-2. He won 4 of his 6 starts in 2015 which included a win in the Arlington Million (Gr1). It was a historic win for the locals here because he was the first Illinois bred to ever win that race, something I thought I would never live to see, having spent countless hours at that fabulous facility while growing up only a few miles away. The atmosphere as they crossed the wire reminded me of the day Cigar won the Arlington Citation Challenge, it was that electric, and the crowd was that into it.

Other starts last year included wins in the Opening Verse stakes at Churchill, and Stars and Stripes (Gr3) at Arlington. He also came a jump short of adding the Shadwell Mile (Gr2) to his resume finishing second. In the race before his Turf Cup win, he closed to finish 5th, beaten a little over 4 lengths in a bizarrely run Breeders’ Cup Turf

The February 6th San Marcos Stakes (Gr1) over 10 furlongs at Santa Anita is slated to be his next start. However, the backup plan includes the February 20th Fair Grounds Handicap (Gr3) over 9 furlongs. If all goes well in one of these intended starts, he will ship to Dubai and run in the $6,000,000 Dubai Sheema Classic (Gr1) run at 2400 meters on the grass. Referring to his horse as “belonging to the people of Illinois”, Richard Papiese indicated his main goal will be the Million and to become the first horse to ever win it in back to back years. He will likely prep in the same race as last year, Arlington’s own Stars and Stripes Handicap. End of year goals are, of course, the Breeders’ Cup but also importance is the Japan Cup, a race the connections really wanted to go to last year, but had to miss after a scoping found some mucous. Between the medications and proper healing time, it left them no time to be 100 percent for the shipping and the race.


There have been some last minute changes for The Pizza Man. After speaking with owner Richard Papiese today,The Pizza Man will work tomorrow, and if all goes well he will point for the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap at 9 furlongs on February 6. There are several reasons for the change in plans which include shipping times, and the fact that South Florida has had some rain, and the turf will me more to his liking for his comeback. The Pizza Man will also be ridden by Javier Castellano, replacing Mike Smith for this one race, due to Smith’s commitment on Songbird the same day. I will post more detail on this tomorrow after his work and after I speak with his connections.


Our conversation turned to Work All Week (pictured left), the 2014 Sprint Champion who was retired last fall days before he was set to defend his title in the Breeders’ Cup. The stress fracture in his right knee is better and he is now being readied for a return to the barn to be a stable pony. I visited Work All Week recently down at Thunder Ranch in Florida. He looked great and was perfect gentleman to me. I even pulled out my cell phone and showed him a replay of his Breeders' Cup win, but all he wanted from me were the carrots I had for him. He wanted to do more, and now he will as a stable pony.

As Midwest Thoroughbreds look forward to 2016 I would remiss to not mention their incredible operation that sees them take in retired racehorses and help several horse related causes including Remember Me Rescue. From the 5k claimer to the Grade 1 stakes horse, they are equally cared for. I was very impressed with the people and the facilities they have in place in Florida. All of the horses under the umbrella of Midwest Thoroughbreds are in great hands. If this sport had more owners that cared about the welfare of their horses as much as Midwest, the sport would have a much brighter future.

Look for Midwest Thoroughbreds to expand their presence in their home state of Indiana as plans are in the works for the building of facilities in the Hoosier state that rival what they have in Florida. Everyone from the team of Midwest Thoroughbreds has much to look forward to in 2016 and I wish all of them, people and horses, much luck in the coming year and most importantly, safe travels.


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Meet Chip Gehrke 


Chip Gehrke has been with Horse Racing Nation since 2015 and currently serves as a Featured Writer. Based outside of Chicago, Chip can be found in the press box most weekends during the Arlington Park meet. Chip's past writings can be found on HRN via On The Air With Dr. Derby, a name which originates from his local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. Now, also a weekly contributor on FOX Sports radios "The Fast Track", Chip can be heard giving his thoughts on the racing world every weekend.

In 2017, Chip was chosen to be a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. As a part of the NTWAB, Chip became a voter for the year-end Eclipse Awards, something he takes very seriously. Some of Chip's favorite writings from the last couple of years is the best way to get to know him, along with following him on Twitter @doctorderby.

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