The Pizza Man, the Eclipse Award finalist for 2015 Champion Male Turf Horse owned and bred by Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. of Richard and Karen Papiese, will be reunited with jockey Florent Geroux when the 7-year-old gelding meets a field of 11 3-year-olds and up in Saturday’s $200,000 Wise Dan (Grade II) over 1 1/16 miles on turf at Churchill Downs.
The Wise Dan, formerly known as the Firecracker, was renamed this year to honor Mort Fink’s two-time Horse of the Year that compiled a remarkable lifetime record of 31-23-2-0—$7,7552,920 from 2010-14, including seven local wins and two Firecracker triumphs. One of the area’s most popular horses, Wise Dan, now age 9, will return to Churchill Downs on Saturday night for the stakes race named in his honor. Trainer Charlie LoPresti will parade the celebrated gelding to the paddock with horses for the stakes race and leave him there for fans to admire while the race is being run.
The Wise Dan goes as Race 7 at 9:05 p.m.
The Pizza Man, an Illinois-bred son of English Channel, is the most accomplished horse in the race with 16 wins in 27 starts, including 11 stakes victories and $1,908,722. He made headlines last summer when he beat Big Blue Kitten by a neck under Geroux in the $1 million Arlington Million (GI) for his third stakes win in a row. After a fifth-place finish in the $2.76 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI), The Pizza Man ventured west and won the $252,250 Hollywood Turf Cup (GII) at Del Mar under Mike Smith, who took over for Geroux when the connections felt a change was needed.
In his only start this year, The Pizza Man finished fifth and was beaten 3 ¾ lengths in the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (GI) on Feb. 6.
“He really didn’t like the Gulfstream turf at all,” trainer Roger Brueggemann said. “That was the first time I had him on something that he didn’t like. We’re hoping he can still compete as a year older but I know how I feel when I’m a year older. Hopefully he’ll be okay. So far he’s been training real well (at Trackside Louisville) so we’ll have to see what happens.”
The Pizza Man boasts an impressive 10-8-1-0 record at the 1 1/16-mile Wise Dan distance, which will be his first race in four months.
“I think this race will be a nice little test for him,” Brueggemann said. “It looks like there’s going to be some nice horses in here.”
The Pizza Man was made the 6-5 morning line favorite on Mike Battaglia’s forecasted odds and will break from post 2.
Chief among The Pizza Man’s rivals will be Thatcher Street and Pleuven (FR), who ran 1-2 in the $62,640 Opening Verse Overnight Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 21, and the Mark Casse-trained duo of Grade II winner Conquest Typhoon and $1,392,666-earner Za Approval. Both competed in the $250,000 Dixie (GII) on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico with Conquest Typhoon finishing fifth and Za Approval last of eight. The latter distained the “good” turf course in his first start as an 8-year-old.
The Wise Dan field from the rail out (with jockeys and morning line odds): Thatcher Street (Brian Hernandez Jr., 8-1); The Pizza Man (Geroux, 6-5); Granny’s Kitten (Gary Stevens, 12-1); Flatlined (Miguel Mena, 15-1); Conquest Typhoon (Joe Bravo, 6-1); Potomac River (Juan Vargas, 15-1); R. Great Adventure (Joe Rocco Jr., 15-1); Pleuven (FR) (Channing Hill, 8-1); Za Approval (Julien Leparoux, 12-1); Kasaqui (ARG) (Fernando De La Cruz, 12-1); and Behesht (FR) (Corey Lanerie, 20-1).
The Pizza Man will carry 123 pounds and all others tote 121.