Standing in the winner's circle following the win by Little Mike in the $90,000 Flying Pidgeon Stakes at Gulfstream Park May 17, trainer Carlo Vaccarezza admitted he was relieved by the solid return of his multiple grade I winner.
"Yeah, kind of," Vaccarezza said post race when asked if he was nervous. "This is very special. My kids are here and my wife, all my friends. I didn't want to look like a fool."
The pressure was definitely on 7-year-old Little Mike, the 2012 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner and a four-time grade I winner, to run well in the Flying Pidgeon against a field of eight other horses that had only one graded stakes winner among them. The gelded son of Spanish Steps out of the Wavering Monarch mare Hay Jude had not run since finishing a disappointing ninth in the Longines Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) last December.
But Little Mike delivered, giving Vaccarezza his first stakes win as a trainer and coasting home to a 2 3/4-length victory (VIDEO). The final time for the 1 1/16-mile distance was 1:40.10 on firm turf. Vaccarezza also bred Little Mike, who races for his wife, Priscilla.
"The field wasn't a tremendous field, but it was a nice little field," Vaccarezza said. "If you run in a race like that, you have to be scared of the other horses."
Little Mike, who ran his record to 14-for-29 with earnings of $3,543,012, returned $3.60 to win.
Little Mike went right to the lead under jockey Elvis Trujillo, and he would stay there the whole way around. Abdiel Jaen aboard Padilla tried to pressure the veteran turf runner, but Little Mike put his class on display by shaking loose of his opponent upon entering the stretch. He cleared off by five lengths after carving honest fractions of :23.57, :46.77, and 1:10.21, then was ridden out as Hakama and Victor Lebron emerged from the pack to get up for the place by half a length over Padilla.
"It was the best thing to ever happen to this horse - to get a little pressure," Vaccarezza said. "He's a really game horse. He likes competition."
"He did everything by himself—easy," Trujillo added. "He went to the front by himself. I tried to slow him down a little on the backstretch, but I didn't want to grab him too much. Everything else was easy. He did everything easy by himself."
Little Mike won his very first stakes race—the Fort Lauderdale (gr. IIIT) in 2011—in addition to three other stakes at Gulfstream. Vaccarezza was happy to have his horse get yet another win at the Hallandale Beach track, where he is based now year-round.
"We're fortunate to be with this horse," Vaccarezza said. "He's a very honest horse. I'm glad that he came back and made a return here in front of the local crowd."
Vaccarezza plans to run Little Mike in the Manhattan Stakes (gr. IT) on Belmont Stakes Day June 7. The trainer attributes his horse's longevity to good planning and race management.
"He's a horse that you're not going to run 10 times a year," Vaccarezza said. "You pick out the spot. Maybe this horse will run four or five times a year, but he'll run for maybe five or six million dollars."