At Woodbine, Redemption for THE PIZZA MAN

TORONTO, CANADA — THE PIZZA MAN has reigned supreme among Illinois turf horses for several years now.  Though four off-the-board finishes made many think he had lost a step, he showed in today’s Northern Dancer (GI – CAN) at Woodbine that he still had what it took to get a taste of Grade I glory.  Tracking just off a crawling pace, he rallied to strike the front in the final furlong, and held off a rally from WAKE FOREST to win by a neck.

The victory was a welcome moment of cheer for Illinois racing fans at Woodbine after profound sadness in the Ontario Derby (GIII – CAN).  Illinois-bred YO CARM, an Arlington-based sophomore who won his first career stakes race in the Bruce D Memorial Stakes on Arlington Million day, pulled up in distress on the far turn of the Ontario Derby, and his injuries proved catastrophic.

AMIS GIZMO, winner of the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie earlier this year, won the Ontario Derby.  The other two graded stakes of the day belonged to rider Julien Leparoux.  He rode TEPIN to victory over males in the Woodbine Mile (GI – CAN).  And, earlier in the day, Leparoux rode RAINHA DA BATERIA to a game triumph over odds-on stablemate DACITA in the Canadian Stakes (GII – CAN).

Woodbine Mile (GI – CAN): TEPIN Now a Grade I Winner in Three Countries

Today’s Woodbine Mile was the first time TEPIN has ever run in Canada.  No one would know that by the way the crowd reacted.  Fans crowded the outside of Woodbine’s outdoor paddock.  They crowded the rail as post time approached.  And, as she returned to claim her winner’s laurels, there was a roar from the stands: “TEPIN!  TEPIN!  TEPIN!”

Going straight into the Woodbine Mile after her triumph at Royal Ascot in June was Plan C for TEPIN.  Originally she was pointed toward the Fourstardave (GI), then to the Ballston Spa, then finally directly to the Woodbine Mile.  Despite those changes of plans, the public adored her as much at the windows as they did on the apron, betting her down to 1/9 early and letting her off at 2/5 in a field of eight.

British shipper MUTAKAYYEF was awkwardly out of the gate, but longshot GLENVILLE GARDENS was not.  He briefly battled FULL MAST, then eased on to the lead.  With FULL MAST prompting, GLENVILLE GARDENS directed the field through fractions of 23.38 for the quarter and 46.41 for the half.  AROD tracked inside in third, with TEPIN outside in fourth through the early stages.

The field began to close in on GLENVILLE GARDENS through the turn.  FULL MAST got first run, but TEPIN edged ever closer on the outside.  She looked loaded turning for home, but she had competition.  Though GLENVILLE GARDENS started to fade, FULL MAST dug in.  MUTAKAYYEF had found a rally just outside her, and TOWER OF TEXAS set sail from the next flight as well.  TEPIN kept going, and with a couple of cracks of the whip, she spurted clear.  TOWER OF TEXAS never quit, but TEPIN held safe to win by half a length.  It was another neck back to MUTAKAYYEF in third; he had cleared fourth-place FULL MAST by three quarters of a length come the wire.  AROD, MR. OWEN, GLENVILLE GARDENS, and PASSION FOR ACTION completed the order of finish.

TEPIN returns to North America a winner in the Woodbine Mile (GI-CAN).

TEPIN returns to North America a winner in the Woodbine Mile (GI-CAN).

TEPIN is a five-year-old daughter of Bernstein out of the Stravinsky mare Life Happened.  Bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall, she is owned by Robert E. Masterson.  She is trained by Mark Casse, and ridden by trainer Julien Leparoux.  The victory in the Woodbine Mile was the 13th in the champion mare’s 21-race career, and includes Grade I victories in the United States, England, and now Canada.  By winning the Woodbine Mile, Tepin earned a Win and You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, a race she won with authority last year.  The US $454,080 winner’s share of the purse brought TEPIN’s career earnings up to US $4,017,918.

The mood after the race was one of awe and adoration.  Though the chants from the crowd were new territory, Julien Leparoux recalled the following she has gained through her dominance of the turf mile division.  “It’s been for a while now, we can see how people react when you talk about TEPIN.  She has a big fan club.  At Churchill, everybody came in to take a picture with her.  It’s been a week when my Twitter has been going crazy since TEPIN has her race.  Everybody loves her.  It’s great — it’s good for racing, and she’s good for racing.”

Added assistant trainer Norm Casse, “I’ve never been a part of something like that.  Even in Royal Ascot, when we won, it was a pretty emotional moment.  The crowd was really acknowledging her.  But, for us to have them chanting her name coming back — a pretty cool moment.”

Both rider and trainer assessed that TEPIN should move up from today’s effort.  Leparoux reflected after the race, “She’s amazing.  She got a little tired today, she’s been off for three months but I think she’s just going to get better after this race.”  Assistant trainer Norm Casse echoed Leparoux’s assessment of TEPIN.  “It looked like she may have needed this one.”

As for a next spot for TEPIN, that is still in the air.  Owner Robert Masterson indicated that a Grade I at Keeneland before the Breeders’ Cup would be a possibility, and Norm Casse indicated that, as well.  “It would mean the Shadwell, or it would be the First Lady — I would think we would pick the easier of the two.”

Eurico Rosa de Silva, rider of second-place TOWER OF TEXAS, had nothing but praise for his steed.  “I’m very proud of my horse.  I’ve never seen my horse try so hard like he did today.”  He did note that he was gaining on TEPIN.  “When I turned home I had nowhere to go, but when I had room he kicked so strong but the filly already had a couple lengths on me.  It’s really hard to make up ground on a good horse.

TEPIN stopped the clock in 1:34.13 for a mile over good turf, and returned $2.90 to win.  An exacta with TOWER OF TEXAS in second (8-1) paid $21.90 for a $1 wager.  The $1 trifecta with MUTAKAYYEF third (8-1-2) came back with $49.65.  A superfecta with FULL MAST in the fourth slot (8-1-2-5) returned $206.00.

Northern Dancer Stakes (GI – CAN): THE PIZZA MAN Has Plenty Left Over

When 2015 Illinois Horse of the Year THE PIZZA MAN missed the board in each of his first four starts this year, people wondered whether he could still compete in graded company.  Last year he became the first Illinois-bred to win the Arlington Million (GI), which was one of three graded stakes he annexed during the year.  This year, he had yet to hit the board.  He came close in the Stars and Stripes (GIII) at Arlington; there he finished fourth, beaten just a neck for all of it.  Next out in the Arlington Million (GI), he mustered a late rally to finish sixth.  Again, he was close: just a length and a half behind winner Mondialiste.

Today, he got a jockey change to Flavien Prat.  He got a running style change, as well.  He had recently been a closer, but had shown front-end prowess in earlier times.  A change of pace, both literally and figuratively, proved to be exactly what THE PIZZA MAN needed.

THE PIZZA MAN was live on the early tote, bet down as low as 5/2 in the early going.  However, it was BIG BLUE KITTEN who opened the chalk at 2/1.  The odds on both of them drifted up through the play, and the public approved of morning-line favourite WORLD APPROVAL to the tune of 5/2 come post time.  BIG BLUE KITTEN went off at 3/1, with both WAKE FOREST and THE PIZZA MAN going to post in the 5/1 range.

The race had little pace on paper, and that bore out on the track.  Favoured WORLD APPROVAL sent to the front, and walked the group of eight through dawdling fractions of 26.97 for the quarter, 53.99 for the half, and 1.44.78 for the mile.  THE PIZZA MAN tracked in second, with longshot BUTTON DOWN inside of him.

Into the far turn, THE PIZZA MAN commenced his run.  BUTTON DOWN began to drop away, but both WAKE FOREST and DANISH DYNAFORMER were gaining steam from the next flight.  Though THE PIZZA MAN got within half a length of the leader, after such slow early fractions, WORLD APPROVAL had enough to open up daylight in shallow stretch.

But, the stretch is long.  THE PIZZA MAN was not done.  He kept running at WORLD APPROVAL, and cut into the favourite’s lead once more.  Inside the final furlong, THE PIZZA MAN’s momentum proved too much for the pacesetter.  THE PIZZA MAN edged to the lead within the final sixteenth.  WAKE FOREST continued his rally on the outside but could only prove second best, a neck behind THE PIZZA MAN.  It was another neck back to WORLD APPROVAL in third.  MAJEED, DANISH DYNAFORMER, CAMP CREEK, BUTTON DOWN, and BIG BLUE KITTEN completed the order of finish.

Illinois-bred THE PIZZA MAN (black cap) outfinishes WAKE FOREST (blue cap) to win the Northern Dancer.

Illinois-bred THE PIZZA MAN (black cap) outfinishes WAKE FOREST (blue cap) to win the Northern Dancer.

THE PIZZA MAN is a seven-year-old gelding by English Channel out of the Lear Fan mare I Can Fan Fan.  He was bred in Illinois by Midwest Thoroughbreds and races for them as a homebred.  Trained by Chicago-circuit mainstay Roger Brueggemann, he was ridden for the first time today by Flavien Prat.  The victory was THE PIZZA MAN’s second career Grade I win, after last year’s Arlington Million.  It was the first win of his seven-year-old season, and the 17th of his 31-race career.  The US $136,224 winner’s share of the purse brought THE PIZZA MAN’s lifetime earnings up to $2,079,326.  The victory in today’s Northern Dancer took THE PIZZA MAN past the $2 million threshold, and earned him a place on the Jockey Club’s protected names list.

THE PIZZA MAN’s pilot Flavien Prat read the flow of the race adeptly.  “There was no pace,” Prat said. “He was comfortable close to the lead, which was fine for me. I was really happy with the whole trip.”  There was a brief worry coming down the stretch, however.  “When the leader started picking it up heading for home, I thought I couldn’t catch him.

Roger Brueggemann, who trains THE PIZZA MAN, noted that there was something different about THE PIZZA MAN leading into the Northern Dancer as compared to his races earlier in the year.  “He’s starting to wake up now.”

When asked about THE PIZZA MAN’s next-out plans, Brueggemann told Picks and Ponderings, “We might come back here [for the Canadian International (GI)] or the Breeders’ Cup, one or the other.”  The Canadian International is on October 16 at Woodbine; the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) is at Santa Anita on November 5.   When asked whether it was possible THE PIZZA MAN would contest both, Brueggemann responded, “I don’t think so.  It just depends, we’ll see how he is.”

THE PIZZA MAN crossed the wire in 2:31.75 for the mile and a half over good turf, and paid his backers $13.10 to win.  The $2 exacta with WAKE FOREST in second (7-4) returned $87.40.  A $1 trifecta with WORLD APPROVAL slotted third (7-4-6) came back with $160.40.  A superfecta with MAJEED in fourth (7-4-6-3) returned $1,112.50 for each dollar on the combination.

Canadian Stakes (GII – CAN): RAINHA DA BATERIA Digs in to Deny Stablemate DACITA

DACITA got all the laud — and, at 1/1, all the money — going into the Canadian Stakes (GII).  She had beaten eventual Beverly D (GI) winner, stablemate Sea Calisi, in the New York Stakes (GII) two starts back.  Last out, she won a frenetic blanket finish in the Diana (GI): a nose ahead of Recepta, and a neck in front of longshot stablemate RAINHA DA BATERIA today.

RAINHA DA BATERIA got her chance to turn the tables today, and with a beautifully-timed ride by jockey Julien Leparoux, she succeeded.

Longshot MIDNIGHT MILEY took advantage of the paceless field of seven, going on the engine through fractions of 23.85 for the quarter and 46.42 for the half.  RAINHA DA BATERIA tracked in second, with the rest of the field clumped closely behind.  Through the sweeping far turn, the field came back in on MIDNIGHT MILEY.  Though well wide turning for home, RAINHA DA BATERIA did not miss a beat.  She got the jump on the rest of the field, and opened up daylight entering the final furlong.  FAUFILER gave chase just on her inside, and DACITA unleashed a run even further inside.  DACITA was coming the better of the two, but RAINHA DA BATERIA had just enough to hold by a nose over stablemate DACITA.  It was another length and a quarter back to 2016 Modesty Handicap winner FAUFILER in third.  STRUT THE COURSE, STEIP AMACH, MIDNIGHT MILEY, and GOODYEARFORROSES completed the running order.

RAINHA DA BATERIA (green cap) holds of DACITA to win the Canadian Stakes.

RAINHA DA BATERIA (green cap) holds off DACITA to win the Canadian Stakes.

RAINHA DA BATERIA is a four-year-old daughter of Broken Vow out of the Dixieland Band mare Amelia.  Bred in Kentucky by Alexander Groves Matz LLC, she dons the silks of owners Lael Stables.  She is trained by Chad Brown, and was ridden to victory by rider Julien Leparoux.  The victory, which earned her a Win and You’re In bid for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, was the third in her 16-race career. second graded stakes win of RAINHA DA BATERIA’s career.  She also won the 2014 Jessamine Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland.  The US $136,224 winner’s share of the purse brought RAINHA DA BATERIA’s career earnings up to $520,060.

Julian Leparoux knew RAINHA DA BATERIA coming into the race.  “She wants to be wherever she puts you.  She was very comfortable, she broke sharp and then she settled and was relaxed.  She did good until she came down the stretch and started looking around a little bit and getting out.  That was a new thing that I learned about her, but at least she won.

Irad Ortiz, who rode runner-up DACITA, had no excuses for the favourite.  “I had a good trip; we just got beat.  She had a good kick; she ran good.  She liked the turf, but we got beat by a good filly.”

Leparoux was matter-of-fact about RAINHA DA BATERIA turning the tables on her stablemate.  “Last time they were a head apart, too.  She [DACITA] beat me last time, so this time I got her.”

RAINHA DA BATERIA stopped the clock in 1:46.87 for a mile and an eighth over good turf, and rewarded backers with an $11.30 win mutuel.  The $2 exacta with DACITA in second (5-2) paid $23.70.  The trifecta with FAUFILER third (5-2-1) came back with $42.35 for a $1 bet.  A $1 superfecta with STRUT THE COURSE in the lowest rung (5-2-1-4) returned $130.05.

Ontario Derby (GIII – CAN): Triumph for AMIS GIZMO, Tragedy for Illinois-bred YO CARM

The first graded stakes of the day, and the only one on the Tapeta track, was the Grade III Ontario Derby.  AMIS GIZMO, second in the Queen’s Plate the last time he raced over the surface, was the heavy 2/5 favourite despite never having beaten open company.  Six sophomores answered the call to the post; TALE OF THE NILE and BERLINER were both stewards’ scratches.

AMIS GIZMO’s performance justified the public’s confidence.  AMIS GIZMO sent to the front, set uncontested fractions of 23.80 for the quarter and 47.87 for the half, and drew clear to win by six lengths.  He crossed the wire in 1:48.30 for a mile and an eighth on the Tapeta, setting a new track record.

DRAGON BAY, who tracked the pace throughout, finished a chasing second.  ENGLISH ILLUSION made an early move but flattened out for third, two and a half lengths out of second.  THATLOOKONYERFACE and ZERO HOUR completed the order of finish.

Illinois-bred YO CARM, winner of the the Bruce D. Memorial Stakes at Arlington Park for trainer Chris Block and owner/breeder Fortino, Inc. on August 13, did not finish.  He fractured his left front ankle in the run through the far turn, and was humanely euthanized after the race.  His rider, Irad Ortiz, Jr., returned uninjured.  A son of Flatter out of the Tale of the Cat mare Iolanda, YO CARM won three of his eleven lifetime starts: a maiden special last year over the Arlington turf, an allowance in January on the Tampa Bay dirt, and last month’s Bruce D Memorial Stakes over the Arlington polytrack.

Toronto Ont.September 17, 2016.Woodbine Racetrack.Ontario Derby Stakes Amis Gizmo Jockey Luis Contreras.WEG/michael burns photo

AMIS GIZMO crosses the wire all alone, setting a new track record in the Ontario Derby.

AMIS GIZMO is a three-year-old son of Giant Gizmo, out of the Victory Gallop mare Galloping Ami. Owned by Ivan Dalos, he was bred in Ontario by Tall Oaks Farm.  The victory was his seventh in ten career starts, and the first graded stakes win for AMIS GIZMO.  The win makes him the second graded stakes winner out of his dam.  Galloping Ami also produced Ami’s Flatter (Flatter), winner of the 2016 Commonwealth S. (GIII) at Keeneland.  The US $81,734 winner’s share of the purse brought AMIS GIZMO’s career earnings up to US $800,022.

AMIS GIZMO paid his backers $2.80 to win.  The $2 exacta with DRAGON BAY second (6-4) returned $7.20.  The trifecta with ENGLISH ILLUSION third (6-4-2) paid $19.25 for a $1 bet.  With a field of just six, superfecta wagering was cancelled.

Photograph of Tepin by Nicolle Neulist.  Photographs of The Pizza Man, Rainha Da Bateria, and Amis Gizmo courtesy of Woodbine Entertainment Group and Michael Burns Photography.

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