Little Mike
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Little Mike
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Little Mike's Season Starts in Flying Pidgeon

Four-time grade I winner on turf targeting Manhattan for trainer Carlo Vaccarezza.

Four-time grade I winner Little Mike will return to the scene of his very first stakes victory when he starts in the $75,000 Flying Pidgeon Stakes at Gulfstream Park May 17.

Since taking the Fort Lauderdale Stakes (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream in 2011, grass stalwart Little Mike has amassed more than $3.4 million in earnings, including victories in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) and Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) in 2012. He will be making his first start since finishing ninth in the Longines Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) at Sha Tin last December.

Little Mike is using the one-mile Flying Pidgeon as a prep for the Manhattan (gr. IT) at Belmont Park June 7, Belmont Stakes (gr. I) day. Elvis Trujillo has the mount.

It will be Little Mike's first start for trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, who bred the son of Spanish Steps. Vaccarezza took over training of the 7-year-old-gelding in March after deciding to start his own stable at Gulfstream and train full time. So far, the restaurant aficionado, who still owns Frank and Dino's in Deerfield Beach, is winning races at a 19% clip in 2014. Three of his maiden startersLittle Alexis, Little Michelle, and Little Daddywon at first asking earlier in the year. The Flying Pidgeon would be his first stakes win as a trainer.

"It's been great," Vaccarezza said of his new endeavour. "We beat some very nice horses, and we've got a bunch of 3-year-olds here that I think we have a beautiful future with. My life has become a circlemy house, the racetrack, and the restaurant."

Vaccarezza did not get off to the smoothest of starts with his horse, who races in the name of his wife, Priscilla. Two weeks ago, there was a dispute over a blood draw that was taken from Little Mike for out-of-competition testing at Churchill Downs. It upset Vaccarezza to the degree that he decided to withdraw his horse from the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) on Kentucky Derby Day.

"Usually, I'm 100% on board with out-of-competition testing," Vaccarezza said. "I was very cooperative, and I wasn't against (the blood draw). What I was upset about was the way it was done. The best thing was to just move him out of there."

Vaccarezza also said his decision had nothing to do with the results of the test.

"I wasn't afraid of the test," he said. "I wanted to know the results, for my own sake, and everything came back negative. I have an e-mail with an official release from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and it says that all out-of-competition tests for (that day) were negative, and that includes the sample collected from Little Mike."

Since returning from Kentucky, Little Mike has trained well, most recently breezing six furlongs on the Gulfstream turf May 10 in 1:12.03. In addition to his routine gallops, the horse has received daily 20-minute treatments in Vaccarezza's own Equine Spa, a machine used for cold saltwater hydrotherapy.

"It's a new systema saltwater spa that is incorporated with a chiller that brings the temperature of the water to 34 degrees," Vaccarezza explained.

Little Mike will face a field in the Flying Pidgeon that includes Miami Mile (gr. IIIT) winner Grand Tito as well as Padilla and Hakama, who have each won allowance races at Gulfstream in the past two months. Also in the entries are stakes winner Balino, Mellow Fellow, and Argentine Tango. Csaba  and Kings Over are entered for main track only.

"He's doing phenomenal, just really, really well," Vaccarezza said. "He lost a lot of weight on the return trip from Hong Kong, but he's gained all of that back. He's at the top of his game, and this should be a great prep race for the Manhattan. I think he's going to run huge."