Midwest Thoroughbreds' homebred star The Pizza Man, who became the first Illinois-bred to win the Arlington Million (gr. IT) Aug. 15, will make his next start at Keeneland with an eye on the Oct. 31 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) and beyond.
The gelded son of English Channel will start next in the Oct. 3 Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at the Lexington track, according to Midwest principal Richard Papiese, using it as not only a prep for the Breeders' Cup into which his Million victory last out allows him a free roll, but also for the $5,172,735 Japan Cup (Jpn-I) at Tokyo Racecourse Nov. 29.
"He's doing great and came out of the Million in awesome shape," Papiese said. "We had a few options of places to take him for a final Breeders' Cup prep, but we decided on the Shadwell Mile, because we believe it is what is best for the horse.
"There are a few reasons to go to Keeneland. First, I think he will benefit from a race over the course. I also like the idea of shortening him up beforehand, as he may have to be laying closer in order to win on the big day."
In the Million, the sizeable 6-year-old raced a dozen lengths off the pace, ninth of 13 over a yielding course, before closing resolutely and outkicking Ken and Sarah Ramsey's multiple grade I-winning favorite Big Blue Kitten to the line. The Million hoisted his earnings to $1,458,537 and was his 10th stakes win, third graded victory, and 15th score in 23 lifetime starts.
"We thought about going to Laurel (Park) for the (grade II $250,000) Commonwealth Cup (Sept. 19), but we believe he will get a lot more out of the Shadwell than going anywhere else," Papiese said. "We always love supporting Laurel and we hope to race there with him in the future. It's more about the set-up and running against the best horses. He's also not the greatest shipper and this was best for him in that regard. We feel like it will prepare him perfectly for two consecutive mile and a half races afterward, especially with shipping to Japan and doing so early. Everything will hopefully go well between now and then.
"We would love to show everyone that he can run many distances well. He may be slightly better at a mile and a half, but he has won from a mile to a mile and three-quarters. He may not win (the Shadwell), but we know he'll be right there and will have something to say about the outcome."
The Pizza Man has finished first in his only two tries at a mile—once in allowance company as a sophomore and then a year later in restricted stakes company in 2013. He has also kicked off his last two campaigns with victories in 1 1/16-miles stakes, including a rousing win in the $65,000 Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill Downs May 30, over a sand-based turf course similar to Keenland's.
"It will be nice to see him race at Keeneland," Papiese said. "We will also have (defending Eclipse Award champion sprinter and Breeders' Cup Sprint winner) Work All Week racing the day prior in the (grade III $250,000) Phoenix (Stakes), so it should be a fun weekend."
The Pizza Man will try to close out his campaign by becoming only the second winner of the Million to take the Japan Cup. The only horse to land both was Bobby Frankel trainee Golden Pheasant in 1991. That son of Caro was the last American-trained horse to win the Japan Cup when he followed the path of 1988 Japan Cup winner Pay the Butler—also trained by Frankel—who finished 12th in the Million before landing on top in the Land of the Rising Sun.
"We're excited to show the world what The Pizza Man is all about," Papiese said. "He will likely leave around Nov. 13 for Tokyo if he's sound and comes out of the Breeders' Cup well. He should have about six days of quarantine and we will try to work him (Nov. 22), a week before the race."
On the merit of his Million win, a victory by the Arlington fan favorite in the Japan Cup—a race that pays through eighth—qualifies his connections for a bonus of approximately $662,778, in addition to the existing victor's share of $2,485,944, according to current exchange rates. Such translates to a total winner's share of $3,148,722. Second- and third-place finishers also receive a bonus.