The Pizza Man almost always delivers, and he did so again with a front-running half-length tally in the marathon Stars and Stripes Stakes (gr. IIIT) for his first graded stakes win July 12 on the Arlington International Race Course turf (VIDEO).
Able to milk easy fractions with Florent Geroux at the controls in the $150,000 test, The Pizza Man held off all challengers in the drive to produce his 11th lifetime win in 16 starts.
Roger Brueggemann trains the 5-year-old Illinois-bred gelding by English Channel for owner/breeder Midwest Thoroughbreds.
Sent off at 9-5 odds, the 121-pound highweight defeated the stalking O'Prado Ole, who raced second almost the entire way under Channing Hill, with closing 8-5 choice Suntracer ridden by Julien Leparoux a neck farther back in third. A slow final time of 2:33.67 for the 1 1/2-mile distance on firm ground followed half-mile fractions of :53.69 and 1:46.73.
"When you look at the race on paper, there wasn't much speed in the race," Geroux said. "I had the best horse in the race, so I took the lead and went with it. The plan was to get to wherever he was comfortable and he was comfortable on the lead. That's where I wanted to be and it worked out good."
The Pizza Man led by just a head over the challenger O'Prado Ole at the quarter pole, reached in 2:10.35, before he kicked clear by 2 1/2 lengths in the stretch. Under steady handling from Geroux, Pizza Man held on for a measured victory as O'Prado Ole and Suntracer, rallying from seventh at the quarter pole while six paths wide, came home strong.
Hill claimed foul against The Pizza Man afterward but it was disallowed by stewards.
"There was a camera on the rail and my horse shied away from it," Geroux explained. "It wasn't my horse's fault or his horse's (Hill on O'Prado Ole). I got him back straight and we were a mile away from the finish line, so I think his horse had plenty of time to recover."
Third in last year's Stars and Stripes in his only prior graded effort, The Pizza Man has five previous stakes wins to his credit. His latest victory, worth $86,400, extended the bay's earnings to $499,803. The Pizza Man, now 7-for-10 on the Arlington turf, is out of the multiple stakes-placed Lear Fan mare I Can Fan Fan.
The Pizza Man paid $5.60, $3.60, and $2.40 as the second choice, combining with Donegal Racing's O'Prado Ole ($8.40, $5) for a $58.60 exacta. Suntracer, who was second in last year's Stars and Stripes and third in 2012, paid $2.40 to show.
"When they go 53 (seconds to the opening half-mile), you're a victim of the race," Leparoux said of Suntracer. "I got a good trip. I saved ground and was covered up, but had to wait, wait, wait to get in the clear. Once I did (get clear), he finished very strong, just too late. He is a relaxed and quiet horse and he always finishes. Tough racing luck today."
Moro Tap ran fourth, followed by Dreams Cut Short, Olympic Thunder, Seton Hall, Dad Are We Here, and Bubba's Big Show. Mister Marti Gras scratched.
The Stars and Stripes served as the final local prep for the running of the $400,000 American St. Leger, which will be held Aug. 16. The first three finishers in the Stars and Stripes will have their entry and starting fees waived for the American St. Leger should they elect to run in that event next month.