Still going strong at the age of 7, well-traveled multiple graded stakes winner The Pizza Man
will launch his fifth full season of racing on Saturday when he makes his South Florida debut in the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1).
The 30th running of the 1 1/8-mile Turf for older grass horses, the first Grade 1 event of the 2015-16 Championship Meet, is one of six stakes on a 13-race program that also includes the $500,000 Donn Handicap (G1), $150,000 Suwannee River (G3), $100,000 Fred Hooper (G3), $75,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint and $75,000 Ladies Turf Sprint.
Bred and owned by Richard Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., The Pizza Man is the lone Grade 1 winner in a field that boasts fellow multiple graded stakes winners Takeover Target and Lukes Alley, Grade 2 winner Triple Threat and Grade 3 winners Eh Cumpari and Legendary, and Grade 1-placed Shining Copper.
“We’re looking forward to going there. Hopefully he can get the job done. We know there will be tough competition but we feel like we fit and we feel like we’re going to be tough, too,” Papiese said. “We’re coming to try to win. That’s the idea.”
A gelded bay son of champion turf horse English Channel, The Pizza Man has not raced since closing with a dramatic run on the outside to win the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) Nov. 26, his 11th career stakes victory and fourth in graded company.
The initial plan was to get started in Saturday’s 1 ¼-mile San Marcos (G2) at Santa Anita, but The Pizza Man missed some training and didn’t get his first work of the year until Jan. 23 at Fair Grounds for trainer Roger Brueggeman. The Pizza Man breezed another five furlongs Jan. 30 in 1:01.40, sixth-fastest of 32 horses.
“He’s doing great. He’s wonderful. He’s a beast,” Papiese said. “He would have started in January but the problem was the barn got a little sick and everybody was a little sick and we weren’t going to do that. We just took our time. He missed a little bit of training, not enough for this race but it would have been borderline to go to California.”
A victory in the Turf would push The Pizza Man over $2 million in career earnings, standing at $1,898,537 with 16 wins from 26 starts. His biggest victory came in the Arlington Million (G1) last August, making him the first Illinois-bred to win the state’s richest race.
“He’s one of those horses that probably doesn’t get the respect he should get but we don’t care about respect. We just want to win the races we’re in with him. That’s all arbitrary anyway. Winning races isn’t arbitrary,” Papiese said. “He’s going to give you three-sixteenths to a quarter of a mile like you’ve never seen before if you don’t get nervous and just wait to pull the trigger. You can’t use him early and expect him to have that kick. He’s too big.”
Javier Castellano, the three-time defending Eclipse Award winner who has won the last four Championship Meet titles, will be aboard for the first time in the Turf. They will break from post six at highweight of 122 pounds.
Papiese isn’t concerned about the turnback to 1 1/8 miles for The Pizza Man, who has raced primarily at longer distances but won the 2015 Opening Verse Stakes and 2014 American St. Leger at 1 1/16 miles and was second by a head in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) last fall.
“He could run anywhere from a mile to three miles, for real. If you watch the replay of the Shadwell if he doesn’t go quite as wide with him he probably wins the race,” he said. “As far as running a mile and an eighth, a mile and a quarter, it really doesn’t matter. As long as it’s a two-turn race, it doesn’t matter what it is.”
Trainer Chad Brown will send out both Shining Copper and Takeover Target in the Turf. Since being claimed last May by owner Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Shining Copper has been the pacemaker in four consecutive Grade 1 stakes running fourth by 1 ¾ lengths in the United Nations and third by a length in the Arlington Million.
“He can carry his speed a long way,” said Brown, looking for his first Turf victory. “He’s proven his class, for sure.”
Klaravich Stable and William Lawrence’s Takeover Target opened 2016 finishing fifth by two lengths following a troubled trip in the Fort Lauderdale (G2) Jan. 9. Winner of the Hall of Fame (G2) last August, he hadn’t run since his victory in the 1 1/8-mile Hill Prince (G3) Oct. 3 at Belmont Park.
“He got in a lot of trouble last time and I think the horse had a chance to win the race with a little cleaner trip. He came out of it good and he’s trained well since, and hopefully he gets a cleaner trip this time,” Brown said. “I think he’s a top-class horse and he should have a good season if he stays healthy.”
Looking to break through with his first graded stakes win is Wertheimer and Frere’s All Included, a 5-year-old son of Include who was third by less than two lengths in the Fort Lauderdale. Last year he was narrowly beaten finishing fifth in the Knickerbocker (G3), third in the Bernard Baruch (G2) and fourth in the Poker (G3).
“He’s knocked on the door a few times. It’s trying to work out the right trip for him. I think if he gets a favorable pace setup, he’s tactical enough where he can kind of adapt. We’ll see. He needs to step up a bit,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “I thought his race here was respectable the other day. I think you have to respect The Pizza Man. I’m not sure what his best distance his. He’s so versatile, so we’ll give it a shot.”
Also entered are Eh Cumpari, winless since his victory in the Palm Beach (G3) last March at Gulfstream; 2014 Knickerbocker (G3) winner Legendary; Lukes Alley, first or second in nine straight starts including a runner-up finish in the Fort Lauderdale; and 2015 Monmouth (G2) winner Triple Threat.
Source: Gulfstream Park