Even when he wasn't at his absolute best, there was rarely a moment when The Pizza Man didn't try.
In the 36 starts the bay gelding made during the past six years, his connections could always rely on the 8-year-old son of English Channel to give an honest account of himself. He finished in the top three 23 times, including 17 victories, and only five times did he cross the wire worse than fifth.
So when the Illinois-bred finished 12th and last over his home course in the Aug. 12 Arlington Million XXXV Stakes (G1T), his human caretakers figured there had to be more to it than off form. This week, owners Midwest Thoroughbreds and trainer Roger Brueggemann found an excuse, when The Pizza Man was diagnosed with a chip in his left front ankle. After years of watching him try every time, they decided enough had been asked of multiple grade 1 winner.
The fan favorite and only Illinois-bred to win the Arlington Million has officially been retired, Richard Papiese of Midwest Thoroughbreds said Aug. 18. The hard-knocking gelding is expected to rehabilitate in Florida before a decision is made on a possible second career, which could include him becoming a track pony or jumper.
"He got another chip in that last race and ... that's enough," said Papiese, who operates Midwest Thoroughbreds along with his wife, Karen. "He's fine, but to go through the rehab and everything with a horse who is already 8, that would be crazy. We'll let him heal up. Probably next week he'll head to Florida for some rest and relaxation and get to do whatever he wants."
Bred by Midwest Thoroughbreds, The Pizza Man achieved top success against some of the best in the turf male division. After his debut in December of 2011, when he finished eighth going six furlongs on the dirt, The Pizza Man took down multiple stakes wins at Arlington International Racecourse and Hawthorne Racecourse before he earned his first graded score in the 2014 Stars and Stripes Stakes (G3T) going 1 1/2 miles at Arlington.
He defended that title a year later, setting the stage for one of the more emotional post-race celebrations the Arlington facility has witnessed. One month later in the 2015 Arlington Million, The Pizza Man made his charge from off the pace, reeled in pacesetter Shining Copper, and then held off eventual divisional champion Big Blue Kitten to prevail by a neck.
"That has to be at the top," Papiese said of the Arlington Million win. "There are a lot of good moments, but that was a great moment. He's probably the best horse to come out of Illinois, if you think about it. But that being said, he had a great career.
"It's really a shame (he had to be retired), because he had 4-year-old legs. He was well taken care of his whole life—lightly raced. The fire had to still be burning and there was at least a reason he didn't run in that last race."
The Pizza Man capped off his breakout 2015 campaign with a win in the Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes (G2T) at Del Mar. The next year, he showed that he was still a high-level threat on his best day, when he captured the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes Presented by HPIBet (G1T) at Woodbine, the final win of his career.
Out of the Lear Fan mare I Can Fan Fan, The Pizza Man retired with $2,158,941 in earnings.
"It's just been awesome to be part of him," Papiese said. "Definitely, he'll want a job. They're treated like rock stars (at the track), so how do you go into retirement off of that? So he'll be treated as if he was a racehorse, and it will be top shelf and whatever he wants to do he'll do."