In most corners of the Woodbine backside, it’s a normal Sunday morning.
Horses are getting tacked up and going out to train. Old warriors stroll confidently there. Ponies calm the nervous. The horses come back from their exercise, get bathed, walked, brushed. They go out into the yard for a few bites of grass, or they tear voraciously into their hay nets. Each barn has its rhythm, and it beats on.
It’s rainy, but not too rainy. Workouts over the turf training track have not been cancelled, to the relief of anyone who planned a gallop there today. A few grass races are scheduled for the afternoon. Some trainers hope the rain stops, the sooner the better. Others hope the skies open up between now and then. A few trainers have the quiet confidence that comes from knowing their horse can handle a highway, a bog, or anything in between.
But, there are subtle signs today is not like other days.
There are just a few more cameras flashing than usual in certain corners of the backstretch, a few more pens scribbling. There are a few unfamiliar faces, both human and equine. Some are occasional denizens, others are visiting Woodbine for the first time.
One of those faces gives away how special today is.
A statuesque bay stops as he turns the corner inside one of the shipper shedrows. He puts up his ears, and looks back at the chatter going on behind him. His eyes are wide open, happy.
A star — an inverted triangle, imperfect but iconic — adorns his forehead.
He surveys his domain for the weekend. He projects all the calm one could expect from a seasoned seven-year-old. He expresses all the curiosity one would hope to see from a horse who loves his life. His hotwalker gives him as much time as he needs. Once he is satisfied that he knows what is going on and that everyone knows he is there, he turns his head forward again and continues on his walk.
At every moment, The Pizza Man exudes all the class one could demand from a horse entered to face some of the world’s best in the Canadian International that afternoon.