The Pizza Man returns in Wise Dan Stakes

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Jen Caldwell

June 15th, 2016

Eclipse Award finalist The Pizza Man returns off a four-month break in Saturday night’s $200,000 Wise Dan Stakes (G2) (formerly the Firecracker) at Churchill Downs.

The popular bay gelding earned his shot at a championship after going 6-4-1-0 in 2015, including his neck triumph in the Arlington Million (G1) for trainer Roger Brueggemann. The Pizza Man also captured the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2), Stars and Stripes (G3) and Opening Verse Stakes last season, with the latter coming under the Twin Spires.

The Illinois-bred opened his seven-year-old campaign in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) on February 6, finishing fifth, and was given some time off. Floret Geroux was aboard for all but one of The Pizza Man’s starts last year and takes back the mount for the Wise Dan.

“He really didn’t like the Gulfstream turf at all,” Brueggemann said. “That was the first time I had him on something that he didn’t like. We’re hoping he can still compete as a year older but I know how I feel when I’m a year older. Hopefully he’ll be OK. So far he’s been training real well (at Trackside Louisville) so we’ll have to see what happens.

“I think this race will be a nice little test for him,” Brueggemann added.. “It looks like there’s going to be some nice horses in here.”

There are 10 other runners lining up against The Pizza Man in the Wise Dan, including this year’s one-two in the Opening Verse.

Thatcher Street proved best in that one-mile affair on May 21, getting up to score by a half-length over Pleuven to earn his first stakes victory. The Ian Wilkes-trained five-year-old is riding a two-race win streak after taking an allowance at Gulfstream Park in late March. Thatcher Street concluded 2015 with a runner-up effort over Churchill’s green going nine furlongs in the River City H. (G3) and gets regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons for Saturday’s foray.

French-bred Pleuven has been in the United States for the past couple of years but hasn’t competed that much. After breaking his maiden at Chantilly in 2013, the dark bay gelding took a listed event at Longchamp before shipping stateside to be third in the Dania Beach Stakes (G3). He made one start in 2014, finishing fourth in the Palm Beach Stakes (G3), then went two-for-two last season against allowance/optional claiming rivals.

Pleuven just missed in his five-year-old debut on April 21 for new trainer Philip Sims, running fifth in an allowance at Keeneland, then made his near-miss attempt in the Opening Verse. Channing Hill was aboard for that latter start and retains the mount for the Wise Dan.

Also entered in the 1 1/16-mile contest Saturday evening are Canadian champion Conquest Typhoon, fifth in the Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) and Dixie Stakes (G2) in his past two; multiple Grade 3 hero and Opening Verse fourth Potomac River; and multiple Grade 3 veteran Za Approval, last of eight in the Dixie most recently.

Two races later under Churchill’s lights, a field of 11 sophomore turf fillies will line up in the $100,000 Regret Stakes (G3).

Dothraki Queen is making just her third turf start in the contest in an attempt to return to the winner’s circle. The Kenny McPeek trainee took her debut on Ellis Park’s green by seven lengths last summer, then traveled to Churchill for a half-length score over the main track in the Pocahontas Stakes (G2).

The bay miss has been unable to score since while placing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), Alcibiades Stakes (G1) and Golden Rod Stakes (G2) as a juvenile. Dothraki Queen is unplaced from her two starts this year, most recently finishing fourth in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) on Pimlico’s dirt, and gets Corey Lanerie in the irons for the Regret.

Also of note in the nine-furlong race are Auntie Joy, runner-up in the Edgewood Stakes (G3) on May 6, as well as Gone Away, Family Meeting and Wessex, who finished in that order while separated by only two heads in the Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico last out.

The Pizza Man photo courtesy of Four Footed Fotos