The Pizza Man dishes it out to Hollywood Turf Cup foes

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November 27th, 2015

Midwest Thoroughbreds’ homebred The Pizza Man served up a Thanksgiving feast to his legions of fans, flaunting his class as much the best in Thursday’s $252,250 Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) at Del Mar.

The Arlington Million (G1) winner was rebounding from an anticlimactic fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), which he exited with a lung infection. As the most accomplished horse in the Turf Cup field, The Pizza Man rated as the even-money favorite, and he ran right up to his billing.

Confidently handled throughout by his new rider, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, The Pizza Man bided his time near the back of the pack through slow fractions of :25.05, :51.10 and 1:17.28 on the firm turf. The mile split was posted live as 1:43.05, but not incorporated into the official chart.

Longshot pacesetter Southern Freedom, who had taken over from Class Leader passing the stands for the first time, was still clinging to the lead into the homestretch. Power Ped headed him at the eighth-pole, but the real action was unfolding wider out.

The Pizza Man was taking the overland route, trading ground loss for clear sailing, and his momentum was unassailable. Sweeping past the leaders with consummate authority, the English Channel gelding drove two lengths clear and clocked 2:31.75 for 1 1/2 miles.

Course specialist Big John B, unhurried when last of 14 for the first 1 1/4 miles, likewise circled the field and got up for second. This marked his first loss on the Del Mar turf, but there was no dishonor to defer to The Pizza Man. Note that Big John B was also the only other Turf Cup contender coming off the Breeders’ Cup Turf, where he was 10th.

Power Foot rallied to grab third by a neck from his younger brother Power Ped. Quick Casablanca was also in the thick of the blanket finish for the minors, finding trouble before just missing fourth. The disappointment of the race was Up With the Birds, who saved ground within striking distance early, only to wind up ninth.

The Pizza Man boosted his bankroll to 26-16-2-2, $1,898,537. The Roger Brueggemann veteran was formerly a mainstay in Illinois-bred stakes, but branched out in 2014 when garnering the American St Leger and Stars and Stripes (G3). He concluded the season with a third in last November’s Hollywood Turf Cup. His improvement on that effort here may be taken as further evidence of his overall progress.

After a victory in the May 30 Opening Verse in his reappearance, and a successful title defense in the July 11 Stars and Stripes, The Pizza Man topped an international cast in the August 15 Arlington Million. He was also a fast-finishing second in the October 3 Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland, prior to his Breeders’ Cup Turf reverse.

The Pizza Man was the second son of English Channel to prevail in a graded turf stakes on Thursday. Earlier, Heart to Heart wired the River City H. (G3) at Churchill Downs. Coincidentally, Heart to Heart had also contested the Shadwell Turf Mile, checking in 10th.

Quotes from Del Mar

Richard Papiese, owner/breeder of The Pizza Man: “He was actually supposed to go to Japan after (his fifth in) the Breeders’ Cup (Turf [G1]) but he got a little lung infection. We were excited to go and represent American racing and racing in general, but coming to Del Mar is great. Same race as last year, different result. (Jockey) Mike (Smith) let him run his race and when he gets to run his race he’s tough to beat. I was absolutely not worried about where he was during the race. Mike said he was going to be eight to 10 off of it and I said, ‘You’re going to love the afterburners when they kick in.’”

Jockey Mike Smith on The Pizza Man: “That’s some stride on that horse I’ll tell you. They told me about his turn of foot, but it was sure good to feel it. We had a big field and that kept things honest. Everyone was riding their own horse instead of riding someone else’s. When the time came (to make his move), I was able to tip out and make my run. He was there, all there. The Pizza Man for Thanksgiving. I like it.”

Jockey Rafael Bejarano on runner-up Big John B: “I was far back, but very comfortable. He was going well. When we made our run, I followed the winner; I was right behind him and moving well. But he (The Pizza Man) was too good. He was much the best today.”

Photo courtesy of Benoit.