STAKES RECAP: Grade I Arlington Million

December 10, 2019


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (August 15, 2015) – Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Illinois-bred turf phenom The Pizza Man stamped his ticket to the Grade I $3,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Turf with a saucy performance in the Grade I $1,000,000 Arlington Handicap Saturday afternoon at Arlington International Racecourse. After breaking ninth of 13 from post seven, the son of the champion English Channel – fourth in the 2006 Million – accomplished what his sire could not when settling in ninth, advancing while racing four-wide and then circling rivals, rallying determinedly to win by a neck over Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s favored Big Blue Kitten. The victory was a popular one, producing a deafening roar from the crowd and taking a slice out of history, as The Pizza Man became the first Prairie State-bred to win the state’s most prestigious race.

Ridden by local jockey Florent Geroux, the 6-year-old homebred bay gelding traveled the 1¼-miles distance in 2:02.20 over rain-soaked yielding ground on Arlington's world-renowned turf course after the Ramseys’ rabbit Shining Copper set fractions of 46.75, 1:10.84 and 1:36.48. Sent off at 5.90-1, The Pizza Man returned $13.80, $6.80 and $4.60 as the public's fourth wagering choice, earning $558,000 to boost his career bankroll to $1,458,537. The Million was his 10th victory in 13 Arlington starts, 15th in 23 overall and sixth in a row over the Chicagoland oval’s lawn.

“I’m always confident when I ride him,” Geroux said. “He loves to win and knows where the wire is. (It felt like) I had no horse the whole way. It looked like he was struggling over the very soft track, but when I put him outside he started to hold up and grabbed the bit again and I was thinking oh boy he’s going for a big one here! He is a local horse and even going to the track there were a lot of people cheering for us. I’d like to thank them.”

“I can’t describe how happy I am. That was more emotional than the Breeders’ Cup for us because of what it means. I know it’s tough times right now in Illinois, so I hope we can help turn the tide,” said Richard Papiese, principal of Midwest Thoroughbreds. As far as earning a Win & You’re In berth into the Breeders’ Cup, Papiese quipped, “We will have to read the paper and see if we belong.”

Morning-line choice Big Blue Kitten finished a game second after closing from 10th under Joe Bravo for trainer Chad Brown, returning $4 and $3.20 as the 3-1 second choice. Stablemate Shining Copper, ridden by Arlington-based Chris Emigh for Brown, held on gamely while finishing three-quarters of a length astern Big Blue Kitten and returning $11.60 to show. Sam-Son Farm’s Up With the Birds finished fourth for the second consecutive year in the Million, racing gamely up the inside after a mid-pack rally and finished evenly under Drayden Van Dyke for trainer Graham Motion.

“I think I was on the best horse today, but he didn’t like the ground,” Bravo said. “ When ‘Kitten kicks, he’s a runner.”

“I thought I had a chance turning for home,” Emigh said. “He tried to win.”

"We had an awesome trip,” Van Dyke said. “Maybe the wet turf course didn't go in our favor. It was splashing good out there. Overall we saved all the ground, weren’t too far behind about mid pack. Had a clear trip, (but we) just got outrun."

The 33rd running of the Arlington Million was completed by Elleval, Wake Forest, Belgian Bill, favored Slumber, Bookrunner, Quiet Force, Triple Threat, Legendary and well-regarded Maverick Wave, who was vanned off.

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