The 7-year-old English Channel gelding found his way back to winning form off an attempted title defense in the Aug. 13 Arlington Million (gr. IT), where he finished sixth. He was the first Illinois-bred to win the Million when he took it in 2015, and Saturday under Flavien Prat became the first from the Prairie State to take the Northern Dancer.
"He seems to be getting better as we go along this year, and Flavian just gave him a very good ride," said owner Richard Papiese of Midwest Thoroughbreds.
Prat kept homebred The Pizza Man in a stalking second behind World Approval as that one crept along through slow early fractions—:27.30, :54.94, and 1:20.71—under Julien Leparoux. Turning for home it looked as though World Approval would hang on, but The Pizza Man surged forward to claim the second grade I victory of his career for trainer Rogger Brueggemann. Final time for the 1 1/2-mile test was 2:32.85.
"We were worried a little bit at the beginning of the race if he was too close and not saving ground, but it was a very heady ride because of the pace," Papiese said. "Flavian rode him great. That was him. The game plan was to save ground and let him run in the stretch, but you go to 'Plan B' when 'Plan A' is pretty much out the window, and he didn't wait.
"He knew they were going really slow and we knew it'd be very little pace anyway and we were hoping to be in the middle of the pack and maybe get first run. But this was much better."
The Pizza Man notched his first win of 2016, counting back five starts to a Nov. 26 win in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IIT) at Del Mar. He returned $13.10, $5.90, and $3.40 at odds of 5-1. Wake Forest paid $5.70 and $4.50, and World Approval brought $3.10. Majeed, Danish Dynaformer, Camp Creek, Button Down, and Big Blue Kitten completed the order of finish.
"It was a couple things," Papiese said. "His blood came back bad and then we kind of maybe rushed him over to Gulfstream over a track that he doesn't really like (for a fifth in the grade II Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap). And then his blood wasn't really right again. He had a bad trip in the (grade III) Stars and Stripes and didn't really pick up the bit (finishing fourth). It's all good though.
"We'll look at the (Oct. 16 Pattison Canadian) International (gr. IT) first, and maybe come back for the Breeders' Cup if it doesn't come up too quick. It will be up to Roger. But we want to do what is best for him."
Midwest Thoroughbreds produced the bay runner out of the Lear Fan mare I Can Fan Fan. He now has a 17-2-2 record from 30 starts.