1) Horse for the Course – Listed at 10-1 on the morning line and cross-entered to a Grade 3 at 1 11/16 miles (American St. Leger), The Pizza Man’s affinity for the local turf showed in Saturday’s Arlington Million (G1). The 6yo became the first Illinois-bred winner of the marquee turf event, launching a bold move on the far turn and courageously withstanding the late run of multiple Grade 1 winner Big Blue Kitten by a neck, and The Pizza Man, who was bet down to 5-1, improved his record to 13-10-1-1 on Arlington’s turf. Not bad for a horse who was winning his third straight race over state-bred foes in the Black Tie Affair only 14 months earlier.
2) Back It Up – The Pizza Man failed to make a serious impact finishing outside the top three in the Northern Dancer (G1) and Canadian International (G1) at Woodbine last fall and the Million outcome elicited negative reactions from those dismayed to see a former Illinois state-bred type winning one of America’s most important turf races. But I’m taking an optimistic view, recognizing how turf horses sometimes ripen with age, and The Pizza Man appears more formidable than years past. Presious Passion and With Anticipation serve as a couple of examples of mid-level performers who suddenly became top-class turf stars at age 6 and The Pizza Man has a chance to carry his form forward at other venues.
3) Aussie-bound Reel – Highland Reel turned in the most impressive performance of the International Festival of Racing, romping in the Secretariat (G1) by a 5 ¼-length margin, and American racing fans would love to see the Irish-based colt return for the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland. However, it probably won’t happen as Coolmore reiterated afterward the same plans for Highland Reel as 2014 Secretariat victor, Adelaide, who shipped Down Under to win the Cox’s Plate (G1) at Moonee Valley last October. Jockey Seamie Heffernan sent the bay, a Group 2 victor in England and Group 1 runner-up in France, straight to the lead at the start and the improving Highland Reel dominated the rest of the way. He’s an Irish-bred son of Galileo but his dam, Hveger, was a classy performer in her native Australia and counts a pair of Australian champions as siblings.
4) Right Call but Unfortunate Outcome – Secret Gesture was best in the Beverly D. (G1) but did not stay straight in deep stretch, drifting into the path of Stephanie’s Kitten nearing the wire. Stephanie’s Kitten wasn’t going to catch Secret Gesture but when jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. grabbed a strong hold, Watsdachances got up in the final jump to finish second on the wire, 1 ¼ lengths behind Secret Gesture. Since it cost Stephanie’s Kitten a placing, the stewards were left with no choice but to disqualify and move Secret Gesture to third. Officials dodged having to make a controversial decision; the highly visible interference wouldn’t have affected the result if Stephanie’s Kitten holds second.
5) Ramsey Close – Ken Ramsey was prominent in all four events, sending out either the favorite or second-choice in the Million, Beverly D and American St. Leger (G3), but the colorful owner had to settle for four placings, with Big Blue Kitten and Shining Copper finishing second and third in the Million; Stephanie’s Kitten’s Beverly D. runner-up; and Hyper’s third in the American St. Leger. The quartet earned a combined $448,750, a nice consolation prize.