The Pizza Man, Kepi Post Ilinois-bred Stakes Triumphs

It was a tale of two stakes that balanced similarities and differences on a mid-June afternoon at Arlington International, with older Illinois-breds taking the stage in split-by-gender divisions that were, at the start of the day, planned for the grass course.  What was similar was how both winners were that used pressing rallies and both were prior stakes winners (ironically, on the same day) over the Arlington turf course.

Black Tie Affair Handicap: THE PIZZA MAN Doesn't Disappoint

First up was the open division, and the $100,000 Black Tie Affair on the Arlington lawn at a mile and a sixteenth.  Quoted as the 7/5 morning line favorite, THE PIZZA MAN was bet early and often from the opening bell, taken to 2/5 in pre-race wagering and settling as the 3/5 favorite in a field of six, with BIG LOOIE having defected from the original entered septet for an earlier allowance.  The half-dozen all broke in fine order, with DOMAIN'S RAP and TAZZ out for the early lead, with TAZZ crossing over and dictating the fractions.  DOMAIN'S RAP would shadow TAZZ down the backside, the pair 1-2 and clicking off :23.83 and :48.93 clock splits for the opening quarter and half, respectively.  THE PIZZA MAN, usually in an off-the-pace deep closer role, was pressing the leaders through moderate splits with DAD ARE WE HERE, SWEET LUCA, and ICE CLIMBER in the back half of the field throughout.

The Pizza Man

THE PIZZA MAN gets the Black Tie Affair spoils.

On the turn, THE PIZZA MAN's rally from the stalking third position was in earnest, getting past DOMAIN'S RAP and taking dead aim on TAZZ at the top of the lane, three-quarters clocked in 1:13.58.  Through the stretch, TAZZ proved a valiant but vain target, with the sustained rally of THE PIZZA MAN nibbling away through the turf stretch, and THE PIZZA MAN would get clear before the wire, topping TAZZ by a half length.  He stopped the clock for the mile and sixteenth on "good" turf in 1:42.86.  The win sent the five-year-old Illinois-bred homebred by English Channel to the Arlington winners' circle for a third straight year as he tasted success and induced comestible puns for the sixth time on the northwest side.  The heavy favorite's final price was 3-5 and he paid $3.20 to win.  Sheldon Russell piloted the winner for trainer Roger Brueggemann.

TAZZ reported home second, an aforementioned half-length behind THE PIZZA MAN.  DOMAIN'S RAP checked in third, three-quarters of a length behind the exacta pair but a neck ahead of SWEET LUCA, who closed on the rail to complete the superfecta.

Winning rider Sheldon Russell commented on keeping THE PIZZA MAN strangely close to the moderate pace, as he "maybe doesn’t have that big kick so I wanted to make sure he was close enough at the top of the stretch. He’s got a big heart and I think he proved that he is still a very good horse."  Russell further commented how "it’s a huge advantage when trainers allow you to get these horses and do some of their morning workouts. I’m very fortunate that [trainer] Roger [Brueggemann] gave me the opportunity to get used to this horse."

The two dollar 3-7 exacta of THE PIZZA MAN and TAZZ yielded $9.00. The fifty-cent 3-7-2 trifecta of THE PIZZA MAN, TAZZ, and DOMAIN'S RAP returned $24.55.  Dime 3-7-2-4 superfectas with SWEET LUCA in the fourth slot paid $15.40.

Lincoln Heritage Handicap: Surface Switch Doesn't Phase KEPI

A summertime thunderstorm came to the Chicagoland area after Arlington's race 8, as roughly an hour and a half was scheduled to pass between the end of the Black Tie Affair and the start of the Lincoln Heritage Handicap, ninth on the card and the restricted-to-older females complement of the Black Tie Affair.  That thunderstorm extended the gap to over two and a half hours, as a one-hour delay was added thanks to the inclement conditions.  It also brought the Lincoln Heritage off the turf, put onto the polytrack at a mile and a sixteenth, its starting point on top of the clubhouse turn.  Taking the race off the grass led to the late scratch of rail-drawn KATIE THE LADY.  An earlier scratch of SYDNEYRELLA meant that, like the Black Tie Affair, six state-breds would see the starter.

As expected, LA TIA broke on top and, like she did in the G3 Arlington Matron, try to take the field all the way from start to finish.  Wet polytrack and an absence of speed meant that she'd be alone on the lead and perhaps long gone, with the quarter in a sensible :24.68 and the half in a modest :48.83.  Even as they came to the top of the stretch, with KEPI about a length off the leaders throughout, LA TIA still maintained her lead and posted a three-quarters split of 1:12.79.  LA TIA and KEPI had gone 1-2 around, with GOLDWAY and THECUSHMAKER in mid-pack, ALETTE and BOLD KITTEN at the back as positions changed little in the race's intermediate stages.

The Lincoln Heritage Handicap

KEPI scores in the off-turf Lincoln Heritage.

Turning for home, KEPI demonstrated that the closing kick she brings to the turf was just fine on the synthetic, and she quickly moved past LA TIA, making the graded winner look stationary.  The lead would get extended through the lane, with closers like ALETTE even chipping away at the pacesetter.  KEPI however had pulled away and would cross the finish a length and a quarter clear of the rest.  The six-year-old mare by Strategic Mission was ridden to victory by James Graham and trained by Brian Williamson.  She stopped the clock in 1:42.95 for a mile and a sixteenth on polytrack.

KEPI checked in a length and a quarter in front of ALETTE, who got past ALETTE in the stretch and surged to be 3 3/4 lengths clear of the third place finisher, pacesetter LA TIA.  LA TIA reported home third, 8 1/4 lengths ahead of BOLD KITTEN, who completed the superfecta with a wide but flat rally.

Winning rider James Graham explained how "it was a great trip" for Kepi. “I was stalking La Tia. She ran great. She picked it up and sprinted home – just like her grass races the other day (where she defeated fellow entrant turned late scratch KATIE THE LADY). She worked well over the Polytrack and she ran well over it today.”

The two dollar 3-7 exacta of KEPI and ALETTE rewarded backers with $78.40.  The fifty-cent trifecta of KEPI, ALETTE, and LA TIA returned $38.85.  Dime superfectas with BOLD KITTEN in the fourth position returned $16.81.

All photos courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.

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