The Pizza Man has 17 wins from 33 starts, $2.1 million in earnings, a pair of grade 1 victories, and a dozen stakes tallies from a well-managed six-season career. The Midwest Thoroughbreds' homebred has little more to prove, but that does not mean his competitive fire does not still burn like a brick oven.
The massive Illinois-bred bay son of English Channel stretched his imposing stride April 18 in his first serious work toward an 8-year-old bow, working a half-mile in :50 flat under veteran trainer Roger Brueggemann's watchful eye. The move was the fifth-best of 10 at the distance at Trackside Louisville, Churchill Downs' nearby training center.
"He got back last Wednesday and had been training in Ocala for a little prior, just jogging and galloping and maybe stretching out a couple times," Brueggemann said. "He looked really good and a lot better this year than last.
"I should have turned him out right away last year, but we gave him only a month instead of three months off," Brueggemann continued. "He wasn't quite the same horse. He was a little lazy about training and not full of himself, and that's not him. He still ran well, but it was like a dark cloud was following us all season and I think (not having) the extra time off is a big part of that.
"Two years ago, when we gave him three months off, he came back just like this, where he really wanted to do something and wants to do more than he should, which is good. I really think he'll be better this year. He just floated today. Sal Gonzalez, who used to work him during his (2015 season) was back on him today and said he felt great."
While 2015 was his best season—with four victories from six starts, a win in the Arlington Million XXXIII Stakes (G1T) and heartbreaking runner-up effort in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1T) that collectively earned him a spot on the Eclipse ballot—last year was no slouch, topped by a rousing effort to capture the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes Presented by HPIBet (G1T) at Woodbine in September.
After the needed time off, Richard Papiese—co-principal of Midwest along with wife Karen—was more than pleased.
"He looks great and I think he's going to have a big year," he said. "He's not going to have a lot of races and will point to the (Arlington) Million as our first big goal. The Opening Verse (which he won in 2015) is too early this year, so we'll probably look for a nice allowance for him and look for a second spot at that point before the Stars and Stripes (G3T at Arlington International Racecourse), and then the Million. In a perfect world, we will have a race between then and the Breeders' Cup, and then he'll ride off into the sunset."
The Breeders' Cup will be held this year at Del Mar, upon a turf course and distance that saw one of The Pizza Man's most dominating performances. In late Nov. 2015, he manhandled 13 foes in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2T), overcoming glacial fractions to win by open lengths in a Mike Smith hand ride.
"The longer vacation should help him and I think this is going to be a good year for us and the horse," Papiese added. "In less than two years, we have successfully transitioned into a quality-focused operation, with the days of having hundreds of horses behind us. We have some exciting young horses and sales purchases coming up, in addition The Pizza Man, and are hoping for the best."
Midwest Thoroughbreds, with bloodstock agent Jim Schenk in an integral advisory role, currently has about 70 horses in training split between Danny Gargan in New York, Armando De La Cerda in Florida, and Tom Amoss and Brueggemann on the midwestern circuit (Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Louisiana).
Brueggemann confirmed that The Pizza Man will likely be on a standard seven-day work schedule leading up to his first race back.
"I don't think it will take him that long to get ready," he concluded.