Grand Arch holds on in Shadwell Turf Mile, but The Pizza Man offers more appetizing BC chances

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October 4th, 2015

Grand Arch (center) just lasts from The Pizza Man (left) and Tourist (right), courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography.

On a day when recently retired legend Wise Dan made an appearance before his fans at Keeneland, it was natural that his legacy should hold sway in the $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile (G1). Grand Arch, runner-up to Wise Dan in this race one year ago, engineered a well-timed move to garner this "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1).

But for all of Grand Arch's tactical acumen, the real story coming out of the Shadwell is the fantastic near-miss of The Pizza Man. At or near the tail of the field through the opening six furlongs, the Illinois-bred hero uncorked a ferocious charge down the stretch. The Pizza Man was gaining hand over fist inside the final furlong, and he nearly erased his entire six-length deficit. Nearly -- the wire came in the nick of time for Grand Arch, who had barely a head to spare.

The Pizza Man's performance was especially commendable because he was cutting back in trip after typically gritty wins in the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes (G3) and the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Million (G1) last out. Although his record showed "two-for-two at a mile," he hadn't raced over this short a distance in two years. The Pizza Man has been effective at 1 1/16 miles too. But for the past two seasons, he's used that as the trip for his seasonal reappearance, setting himself up for longer targets.

That's the same guiding principle for The Pizza Man's competing in the Shadwell. With his swashbuckling finish over an inadequate trip, he's primed for the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) over 1 1/2 miles on this Keeneland course. And for everyone (like me) unsure about him away from his Arlington stomping grounds, he just proved that he gets around Keeneland quite well, thank you.

Conversely, Grand Arch was racing over his best distance, and he benefited from a favorable trip. Credit to him for making the most of it, but he wouldn't be certain to win a rerun of this race, let alone the BC Mile. He was 11th in last year's running of the Mile at Santa Anita, and it's not conclusively proven that he's much better this year. As a case in point, consider the past two editions of the Fourstardave (G2) at Saratoga. In 2014, he missed by a neck to Seek Again in course-record time, and in the August 15 renewal, he just lasted from the wide-trip Ironicus. You could argue that Grand Arch is an excellent opportunist, and cagey enough to get himself in a position to win, without being the next greatest thing on the mile scene.

In the early going of the Shadwell, Grand Arch was reserved in a close fourth as British-based handicapper Kelinni dictated fractions of :23.91 and :48.00. The other British shipper, Dutch Connection, appeared to be well placed in fifth, but he began to lose position turning for home. Since trainer Charlie Hills had shipped him here in hopes of firm turf, it wasn't exactly a revelation that Dutch Connection wasn't in love with the yielding ground. 

Just as Dutch Connection was struggling, Grand Arch was improving into second through six furlongs in 1:12.27. He delivered the winning punch down the stretch and spurted 1 1/2 lengths clear.

Then things got interesting, or dicey, depending on your rooting interest. Tourist knifed through toward the inside to loom a threat, and The Pizza Man was speeding on the outside. But Grand Arch fought on, responding generously to jockey Luis Saez, and he kept his head in front in the three-way finish.

Tourist was a scant neck astern of The Pizza Man in third. Seek Again finished with interest for fourth. Dutch Connection never quit, despite his difficulties, and plugged on to regain fifth at the wire. Bobby's Kitten, who refused to settle when held up off the pace and pulled Mike Smith's arms out of their sockets (metaphorically speaking), was ninth of 11 finishers.

But there were supposed to have been 12 coming home across the wire. Tragically, Skyring never made it. He went wrong as the field passed the stands for the first time. Jockey Joe Rocco Jr. pulled him up. Vanned off for further evaluation, Skyring was euthanized, according to reports confirmed by Alicia Wincze-Hughes of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Skyring will always be remembered for capturing the 2013 Dixie (G2) under a canny front-running ride by Hall of Famer Gary Stevens -- just before Stevens guided Oxbow to victory in the Preakness (G1). His other highlights included scores in the 2012 James W. Murphy, also at Pimlico, and the 2014 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. H. (G2) at Fair Grounds. The six-year-old compiled a record of 37-5-4-3, $710,854. RIP, Skyring.

Quotes courtesy of Keeneland:

Jockey Luis Saez on Grand Arch: “He broke well and we got a good position. When we got to the half-mile (pole), I had so much horse, I was just waiting for a little room. Thank God when we got to the stretch he got a little room and he kept going. At the end, I saw two horses flying and I thought they were going to beat me, but he’s a fighter. He just kept going.”

Trainer Brian Lynch on Grand Arch: “Great to see him, as he gets older, just keep getting better and better. We had this race in mind this year after a game effort last year (second by a length to Wise Dan), and (jockey) Luis (Saez) seems to get along with him fantastic. I was worried about the turf getting a little soft today, but he handled it well. Very exciting finish – makes for a great race.”

Jockey Florent Geroux on runner-up The Pizza Man: “Tough beat. He couldn’t keep up early, so I let him settle. When I asked him to run, it took him a little bit longer than usual because the race is shorter, but the last quarter of a mile he was flying. At the eighth pole he was moving so fast. He’s not even a mile horse. This (performance) just shows how good he is.”

Richard Papiese of Midwest Thoroughbreds on The Pizza Man: “He ran huge. If there weren’t so many horses across the track, he gets up for the win. For all the folks who may have thought he couldn’t run a mile: Surprise. It's a question of two turns and he could probably run a two-turn race at six furlongs on a small track and run big. I couldn’t be happier. The instructions were 'where he breaks, he breaks'. We wanted a target and we didn't want to be a target. He got more out of this race than you could ever imagine for going into the Breeders' Cup (Turf) and that’s why we ran here instead of any other race. It’s about bigger and better things down the line.”

Jockey Jose Lezcano on third-placer Tourist: “He struggled a little bit in the first part where the ground was kind of soft. Finally he jumped in and got comfortable about the three-quarter (pole) and after that he seemed better. He finished up very good.”

Jockey Julien Leparoux on fourth Seek Again: “We had a good race, a good trip. My horse ran good. We just got beat. No excuses. He ran his race.”

Jockey Jim Crowley on Dutch Connection, fifth as the favorite: “We had a nice position and he traveled very well until the home bend, where I think (with) the combination of the slow ground and the tight turn he wasn’t able to pick up. But then he stayed on well in the straight. I think he could improve going farther next season.”