The Pizza Man is riding a three-race winning streak into the $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile Oct. 3 during Fall Stars weekend at Keeneland.
Midwest Thoroughbreds' homebred son of English Channel comes into the Turf Mile off the biggest win of his career, a neck victory in the 1-1/4-mile Arlington Million XXXIII over Big Blue Kitten. The 6-year-old gelding is undefeated in his three starts so far this year, having won the Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill Downs May 30 followed by a victory in the 1-1/2-mile Stars and Stripes Stakes at Arlington International Racecourse.
A long layoff between late November to May had done The Pizza Man a world of good, according to owner Richard Papiese.
"I think we had a tired horse at the end of the year," he said. The Pizza Man had been sent with trainer Roger Brueggemann to Oaklawn Park at the beginning of the year but freezing temperatures had disrupted his training schedule so much that the gelding was sent to Midwest Thoroughbreds' farm in Illinois for a long break.
Also given a long layoff was Work All Week, Papiese's homebred who won last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint nd has been entered in the Oct. 2 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland.
"We give them quite a bit of time off," Papiese said. "Because we lost so much training time, we gave him extra time. The Pizza Man prospered more from the time off than Work All Week, who loves to run."
In the Turf Mile, The Pizza Man will face some tough competition from horses that love the distance, love Keeneland, and thrive under both conditions.
One of them is Grand Arch, a son of Arch owned by Jim and Susan Hill, who comes into the race off a victory in the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap, where he beat Ironicus by a neck. Grand Arch finished second in the Turf Mile last year to now-retired two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan. His five previous starts at Keeneland produced two wins and three second-place finishes. At a mile, Grand Arch has been in the money eight times out of 11 starts.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey have entered homebred Bobby's Kitten, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Though the son of Kitten's Joy has only made one other start this year, he's thrived at this distance with two wins and two thirds out of four starts at a mile. No Ramsey entry at Keeneland should be overlooked, considering the couple collected their 15th title as leading owner at the 2015 spring meet.
The Pizza Man could become a dual Breeders' Cup World Championship qualifier with a win in the Turf Mile. His win in the Arlington Million has already earned a spot in the Breeders' Cup Longines Turf, and the Turf Mile is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Mile. Even if The Pizza Man prevails in the Turf Mile, however, Papiese said the gelding remains on track to start in the Turf.
"We didn't want to train up to the [Turf]," said Papiese. "He really needs to run. He is good at a mile and will get more out of this race than going anywhere else."