The Pizza Man makes another run to Del Mar for Turf Cup

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

November 23rd, 2015

Illinois-bred cult hero The Pizza Man, third as the favorite in last year’s Hollywood Turf Cup (G2), makes another Thanksgiving Day run to Del Mar for the $250,000 feature. His leading opponents are fellow shipper Up With the Birds and course aficionado Big John B.

The Pizza Man is taking a different route to Del Mar this year. Last fall, the English Channel gelding was coming off a pair of losses at Woodbine, where he was fifth in the Northern Dancer Turf (G1) and fourth in the Canadian International (G1). In the Hollywood Turf Cup, he sat fourth behind the free-wheeling Mystery Train, struck the front in the stretch, and got caught by the late-running Finnegans Wake and Patrioticandproud. There’s no comparable speed merchant in play here, suggesting that The Pizza Man should get a more typical trip.

Another angle in favor of an improved showing is that The Pizza Man may be better at this point in his career. After his repeat win in Arlington’s Stars and Stripes (G3) at this 1 1/2-mile trip in July, the Roger Brueggemann charge shortened up versus a stronger field to capture the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Million (G1). He prepped for the Breeders’ Cup in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland, finishing a barnstorming runner-up by a head. But he didn’t progress off that effort when fifth in the October 31 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

Exiting the Breeders’ Cup with a lung infection, The Pizza Man scrapped plans to head to the November 29 Japan Cup (G1), and opted for this spot instead. Interestingly, he gets a rider switch to Hall of Famer Mike Smith. Owner/breeder Richard Papiese of Midwest Thoroughbreds had critiqued the ride given by regular pilot Florent Geroux in the Breeders’ Cup (when speaking to the Blood-Horse’s Eric Mitchell). Geroux had made the trek to Del Mar to keep the partnership last year, but he’ll have a Fair Grounds Thanksgiving this time.

Up With the Birds, fourth to The Pizza Man in the Million, may find 1 1/2 miles more to his liking. Formerly Canada’s Horse of the Year during his sophomore season in 2013, the Sam-Son Farm homebred didn’t scale those heights in 2014, and subsequently switched to Graham Motion in hopes of a renaissance. While he’s gone winless in five outings in 2015, Up With the Birds has run consistently well in graded company, capped by a terrific second in the October 18 Canadian International. He fared best of the North American-based runners, conceding only to Sir Michael Stoute’s well-regarded Cannock Chase. That marked his second try at this distance, his first being a commanding score in the 2013 Breeders’ versus fellow Canadian-breds. Whether it’s a case of his liking Woodbine best, or prospering at 1 1/2 miles, will be determined here. Drayden Van Dyke regains the mount.

With the Southern California turf division not what it once was, you’d have to think that the balance of power would rest with the invaders. But a countervailing factor is the proficiency of Big John B over the Del Mar course. A perfect three-for-three at the seaside, including the past two runnings of the Del Mar H. (G2), the Phil D’Amato trainee may punch above his weight at his favorite track. He’ll have to, if you go by the literal reading of his form. Big John B’s been soundly beaten in his attempts at the Breeders’ Cup Turf, winding up ninth at Santa Anita in 2014 and most recently a long-way 10th at Keeneland. And with a 124-pound impost, he gets only two pounds from The Pizza Man and meets Up with the Birds at levels.

Texas Ryano is the most interesting of the other locals. By Curlin and out of the prolific producer Blending Element, the four-year-old appears to have upside for Carla Gaines. Texas Ryano surged from off a slow pace to beat Class Leader going away in the 1 1/4-mile King Pellinore at Santa Anita, and his subsequent fifth in a salty mile allowance (behind Bal a Bali) smacks of a tune-up. Unlike the remainder, he’s still unexposed, and eligible to enjoy the stretch-out.

Argentinean Group 1 winner Ganesh, fourth in that same Bal a Bali allowance, has been a useful exotics player going shorter. It may be significant that his best U.S. performance was also his longest, when a close second in the 1 1/2-mile Charles Whittingham (G2) in May. Full brothers Power Foot and Power Ped, both Neil Drysdale pupils, are also capable of minor awards. Six-year-old Power Foot was fourth in this race a year ago, but younger brother Power Ped may be surpassing him. Outfinishing older brother when the pair were awarded second and third, respectively, in the February 7 San Marcos (G2), Power Ped was runner-up in the September 14 Kentucky Turf Cup (G3). He could manage only eighth in the Canadian International last out, but he was thought worthy of the trip.

Likely pacesetter Southern Freedom and Procurement just dead-heated in a 1 1/4-mile allowance at Santa Anita, with Flamboyant a near-miss third. Flamboyant has yet to build on his excellent third in last year’s Belmont Derby (G1), but this was his most encouraging effort in a long time. First on the also-eligible list for this race, he’d be worth a look if he gets in. Wanstead Gardens was sixth in the same allowance. Wanstead Gardens had previously beaten Texas Ryano over this course, though, and his on-off pattern hints that he may be back on here. He also keeps Hall of Famer Gary Stevens in the saddle.

Quick Casablanca, a former Chilean Horse of the Year who performed well on this circuit last year, hasn’t been the same since undergoing emergency colic surgery in August 2014. Fellow South American Generoso, who won a Brazilian Group 2 on dirt back in January, showed little in his U.S. debut and needs to move forward second time out. Australian import Danas Best, Big John B’s stablemate, has yet to make his presence felt in three stateside outings. Rounding out the field is class-challenged Bird E House, the second also-eligible.

The Pizza Man photo courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.