Pizza Bianca rallies to win the Hilltop, Royal Ascot looms

Pizza Bianca rallies to win the Hilltop, Royal Ascot looms
Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

Baltimore

No one will mistake Pimlico for Ascot. But as far as Bobby Flay was concerned, Pizza Bianca's odds-on victory Friday in the $100,000 Hilltop Stakes was an important stepping stone to get his filly to next month’s royal meeting in England.

And nerve-racking, too. At least it was for him.

“I’m always nervous,” he said. “When you’re 2-5, you just want to fire. But she performed very nicely.”

Last year’s winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf came back from her season-opening loss last month at Aqueduct to score a 1 3/4-length victory in her last stop before being entered in the $625,000 Coronation Stakes (G1). Like Friday’s race, it is for 3-year-olds going one mile on the turf. Unlike Friday’s race, it is during what might be the most prestigious meet in the world.

“It’s an amazing experience,” said Flay, the celebrity chef who took his then 3-year-old filly More Than Real to the same race 11 years ago, when she finished 11th of 12. “She didn’t run that well. It was a very boggy racecourse. But it doesn’t matter. I always say these racehorses can bring you on wonderful experiences. To me that’s what it’s all about.”

Trained by Christophe Clément, who was not at Pimlico on Friday, and ridden by José Ortiz, Pizza Bianca did what she always does by giving ground to early leaders before gradually picking off rivals in the stretch. Unlike last month, when she came up three-quarters of a length short in the Memories of Silver, she raced clear of second-place stablemate Diamond Hands (7-1) and third-place Vergara (9-2) with more than 100 yards to spare.

“The flow of the race was way different than last time,” Ortiz said. “Last time it was a small field. They went in 50 (seconds for the first half-mile). I was very close, and I had to move a little early, three wide, but the winner beat me outside of me. This time she went around and sat back, and I let the speed develop before I came with one run.”

The pace was faster Friday. Eventual sixth-place finisher Murph (10-1) went out in 23.31, 47.56 and 1:11.38 for the first three quarter-miles before Pizza Bianca made her decisive move to win with a time of 1:36.54 on the firm turf course baked even more dry by the 87-degree temperature.

“We asked José to break and kind of put her to sleep,” Flay said. “Let her go around the track and then just ask her when she needed to be asked.”

Pizza Bianca is a homebred filly by Fastnet Rock out of Flay’s Galileo broodmare White Hot.

“She was the mare’s first foal,” he said, “so it looks up from here, let’s put it that way.”

Now Flay hopes for an even better visit to south England on Friday, June 17, for the one-turn mile this year than he had in 2011. He could have stayed home to have Pizza Bianca compete in the Turf Tiara series, but he could not resist the lure from over there.

“Look, I’m a native New Yorker,” he said. “Those races are fantastic. We needed those races, and they’re important. But there’s three of them. And we’ll skip the first one to go hang out with The Queen.”

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