The Pizza Man sets his sights higher trying the Arlington Handicap

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

July 8th, 2015

The Pizza Man conquered Arlington's major long-distance turf stakes last year, but connections have loftier goals for the six-year-old gelding this year. They will find out if he's worthy of continuing down that path Saturday when he headlines the $100,000 Arlington H. (G3).

The 1 3/16-mile test is one of four graded stakes that comprise Million Preview Day, all preps for next month's four graded stakes on the August 15 International Festival of Racing program. A winner of the Arlington 'Cap has yet to go on and win the Arlington Million (G1) since the latter's inaugural in 1981, with 1992 grass champ Sky Classic among those coming closest.

An Illinois-bred, The Pizza Man loves the Arlington lawn. He's won eight of 11 starts over it, and swept the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes (G3) and 1 11/16-mile American St Leger last summer. Although cross-entered to Saturday's Stars and Stripes, he's far more likely to pursue this more difficult spot. He enters off a season debut victory in the $58,000 Opening Verse at Churchill Downs, where he defeated subsequent Firecracker (G2) winner Departing.

Up With the Birds, Canada's Horse of the Year in 2013, had a more difficult four-year-old season last term, winning only the Nijinsky (Can-G2) and finishing second in the Knickerbocker (G3) in six outings. Far up the course at Tokyo in November as a 158-1 chance in the Japan Cup (Jpn-G1), he returned to action in the May 16 Dixie (G2) at Pimlico, where he rallied from 10th to third in a race that was probably too short for him. This race will mark his second start since moving to the barn of Graham Motion.

Also looking to punch their tickets to the Million are Triple Threat and Middleburg, who were separated by a nose in the June 7 Monmouth S. (G2) over nine furlongs. Triple Threat, a multiple Group 3 winner in France, was making his U.S. debut there for Bill Mott, while Middleburg was placing for the second time in graded company after kicking off his season with an allowance score at Gulfstream.

Like The Pizza Man, Dramedy was cross-entered to the Stars and Stripes on Saturday. He's probably a better fit for that feature after posting a 30-1 upset in the Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland over the same 12-furlong distance back in April.

Other notables in the $100,000 Stars and Stripes are Xtra Luck and For Greater Glory, one-two in the May 23 Louisville H. (G3) at Churchill, and the mare Three Hearts, who placed in three of her next four stakes appearances after taking the Red Carpet H. (G3) at Del Mar in November.

The $100,000 Modesty H. (G3), for fillies and mares at 1 3/16 miles, is a prep for next month's Beverly D. (G1). French Group 3 winner Gaga A will attempt to make it two in a row in the U.S. after taking the $77,000 Possibly Perfect H. last month at Santa Anita over 1 1/2 miles.

Bill Mott's multiple Grade 2-winning Riposte has placed in only one of four starts this year and might appreciate getting out of New York for a confidence boost. Overheard, a graded stakes winner in Canada and the U.S., enters off a sharp third in the Nassau S. (Can-G2) at Woodbine in late May, while Irish Group 2 winner Mango Diva is probably better than what she showed when only seventh in the Gallorette H. (G3) at Pimlico in her stateside debut.

Rounding out the quartet of stakes is the grand, old American Derby (G3), worth $100,000 and run at 1 1/8 miles for three-year-olds. This Secretariat (G1) prep came up light with three minor stakes winners among the field of seven. Perhaps the Mark Casse-trained World Approval will enjoy the drop in class after running third in the American Turf (G2) and fourth in the $200,000 Pennine Ridge at Belmont. On the other hand, turf newcomer Raagheb should be given a strong look given his pedigree and the unimposing nature of his rivals.

(Photo: Four Footed Fotos)