Lukes Alley bowls over Pizza in Gulfstream Park Turf

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February 7th, 2016

As even-money favorite The Pizza Man labored home in fifth, former Canadian champion Lukes Alley struck late to register his first Grade 1 score in Saturday’s $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf (G1). The Melnyk Racing Stables homebred thrust his neck in front of stubborn pacesetter Shining Copper at the wire, finishing 1 1/8 firm-turf miles in 1:48.20.

Although The Pizza Man suffered the widest trip according to Trakus (23 feet more than the winner), as the 122-pound highweight, he was uncharacteristically bland throughout. Indeed, jockey Javier Castellano began niggling on him near the rear of the field a long way out. Lacking his usual zest, The Pizza Man ground his way down the stretch and crossed the wire 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner.

“I don’t think it was a good setup today,” Castellano said. “I just rode with a lot of patience. He kicked but I don’t know if it was the track here, the way the speed carries. It’s so hard for a horse that comes from way, way back. It could be the combination of the slow pace and a track that carries speed. It took a little while for him to go forward and I think that’s why he got beat today.”

Still, perhaps there was something to the pre-race comments from Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Richard Papiese, who explained why The Pizza Man’s order was changed from his original target, the San Marcos (G2) at Santa Anita Saturday.

“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,” Papiese told Gulfstream Park publicity earlier this week. “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.”

Maybe some residual sluggishness was an issue, with just a pair of five-furlong works on the tab for this first start in more than two months. At any rate, will connections want to send The Pizza Man to Dubai off this? Considering that they also swerved last fall’s Japan Cup (G1) after an illness, I’d imagine the pizza won’t go international just yet.

Lukes Alley has been a model of consistency over his career, only twice failing to make the exacta in 14 lifetime starts. Most of those efforts had come on Woodbine’s Polytrack. The Josie Carroll charge earned a Sovereign Award as Canada’s champion older male of 2014 after capturing the Durham Cup (G3) and Autumn (G2). Unraced for 10 months, Lukes Alley resumed with a September 12 allowance score, but placed second in both title defenses in the Durham Cup and Autumn. His seconditis continued in his Gulfstream debut in the January 9 Ft. Lauderdale (G2), where he fell a half-length short of catching loose-on-the-lead Heart to Heart.

On Saturday, he had another free-wheeling front runner to catch in Shining Copper. Best known as Big Blue Kitten’s rabbit last season, Shining Copper was here on his own merits, and nearly pulled off the wire job. He went uncontested through soft splits of :24.54, :49.12 and 1:13.63, and readily repelled a bid from Takeover Target at the top of the stretch. Edging away through a mile in 1:36.68, Shining Copper was not stopping.

But Lukes Alley, who had been reserved in fourth early, began to make headway inside the final furlong. Under Paco Lopez, the 5-1 chance proved relentless to pay $12.20 to win.

Shining Copper dug deep to try to stave off Lukes Alley, even fighting back to make the margin even closer. You’ve got to think that there’s at least one graded stakes with his name on it this year, perhaps at Monmouth.

All Included, third in the Ft. Lauderdale last out, ran another creditable race for the bronze again. Takeover Target, a luckless fifth in the Ft. Lauderdale, promised to do much better with clear sailing here. But he was compromised by ground loss on both turns, and that might have taken its toll just as he ranged up to challenge Shining Copper. Takeover Target could not maintain his brief challenge and retreated to fourth. [Edit: After watching the replay again, the ground loss didn't look as significant, and I'm cycling back to my initial instinct that he was a little disappointing.]

With this new career high to his credit, Lukes Alley has compiled a mark of 14-8-4-0, $758,956. The Ontario-bred is by Flower Alley and out of Tampa Bay stakes winner and track record setter Vaulcluse, an A.P. Indy mare. Thus Lukes Alley is bred on the productive Distorted Humor/Seattle Slew cross.


Photo courtesy of Lauren King/Coglianese Photography.