The Pizza Man became the first Illinois-bred runner to win the Arlington Million, the state’s most prestigious race, with a shining performance in front of the home crowd on Saturday at Arlington Park.
The recipient of a well-timed ride from Florent Geroux, Midwest Thoroughbreds’ The Pizza Man collared pacesetter Shining Copper in the stretch and held at bay a late rally from Big Blue Kitten to win the Arlington Million by a neck at the wire. The Pizza Man traveled the 1¼-miles over a rain-soaked course (officially listed as yielding) in 2:02.20 for trainer Roger Brueggeman.
“I’m always confident when I ride him,” Geroux said. “He loves to win and knows where the wire is. It looked like he was struggling over the very soft track, but when I put him outside he started to hold up and grabbed the bit again and I was thinking, ‘oh boy, he’s going for a big one here.’ He is a local horse, and even going to the track there were a lot of people cheering for us.”
The Arlington Million is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race, and with the victory, the 6-year-old gelded son of English Channel stamped his ticket to the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
“I can’t describe how happy I am. That was more emotional than the Breeders’ Cup for us because of what it means. I know it’s tough times right now in Illinois, so I hope we can help turn the tide,” said Richard Papiese, principal of Midwest Thoroughbreds.
As far as earning a Win & You’re In berth into the Breeders’ Cup, Papiese added, “We will have to read the paper and see if we belong.”
The Arlington Million was the first million-dollar Thoroughbred race when it was run for the first time in 1981. The popular John Henry, a two-time Eclipse Award champion, captured the inaugural Arlington Million in dramatic fashion over The Bart and returned to annex the 1984 renewal of the race. He is the only two-time winner of the Arlington Million in history.