The Pizza Man will go for his second straight graded victory on Saturday as part of an eight-horse field in the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf H. (G1).
The Gulfstream Park Turf ‘Cap is part of a six-stakes program on Saturday. Two of the those six stakes are on the main track – the $500,000 Donn H. (G1) and $100,000 Fred W. Hooper H. (G3) – while the other four all take place on Gulfstream’s turf course.
The Gulfstream Park Turf is the big one on the grass, especially with the popular The Pizza Man making his seasonal bow in the 1 1/8-mile contest. Trained by Roger Brueggemann, the seven-year-old gelding always competed well against stakes rivals but had a break-out year in 2015.
The Pizza Man kicked off last year’s campaign with a trio of stakes wins capped off by a stellar neck victory in the Arlington Million (G1). He next traveled to Keeneland for the first time in his career to try the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) and just missed by a head that day. The bay son of English Channel took on the world’s best in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) next out at that track and was a credible fifth, beaten just 4 1/4 lengths by star filly Found.
The Pizza Man didn’t rest on his laurels, making one more start last year at Del Mar. He rallied from well out of it to take the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2), and based on his year was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the 2015 champion turf male.
The Pizza Man garnered 41 votes for the Eclipse Award, good for third behind winner Big Blue Kitten and Golden Horn. Initial plans were for the bay to kick off 2016 in the San Marcos S. (G2) at Santa Anita Park on Saturday going 1 1/4 miles. However, he missed some training, prompting Brueggeman and owner/breeder Richard Papiese of Midwest Thoroughbreds to enter him in the Gulfstream Park Turf ‘Cap instead.
“He would have started in January but the problem was the barn got a little sick and everybody was a little sick and we weren’t going to do that,” Papiese explained. “We just took our time. He missed a little bit of training, not enough for this race but it would have been borderline to go to California.
“Hopefully he can get the job done. We know there will be tough competition but we feel like we fit and we feel like we’re going to be tough, too. We’re coming to try to win. That’s the idea.
“He’s doing great. He’s wonderful. He’s a beast.”
A win in the Gulfstream Park Turf ‘Cap could see The Pizza Man traveling to Dubai for his next start in the $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-G1) at Meydan. That was a possibility after the San Marcos and might still be on the table.
Those lining up against The Pizza Man on Saturday include Grade 2 victor Takeover Target, fifth by just two lengths in the Ft. Lauderdale S. (G2) last out; 2014 Canadian champion older male Lukes Alley, who was a half-length second in the Ft. Lauderdale in his six-year-old bow; and Shining Copper, who set the pace in last year’s Arlington Million and held for third.
The $150,000 Suwannee River S. (G3) is the sister race to the Gulfstream Park Turf on Saturday and drew a field of eight turf distaffers to go nine furlongs.
Grade 3 winner Rainha Da Bateria, New Zealand champion Habibi and last-out Tropical Park Oaks victress Tammy the Torpedo are all entered.
A pair of $75,000, five-furlong turf events are also carded Saturday, with the Ladies Turf Sprint S. taking top billing thanks to the presence of Lady Shipman.
That four-year-old lass will be making her first start for new trainer Kiaran McLaughlin after previously being conditioned by Kathleen O’Connell, who saddled Lady Shipman to a neck second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) last out. The chestnut miss was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the 2015 champion female sprinter and earned 41 votes to be third behind recently retired La Verdad.
The boys will line up much later on the program in the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, including Grade 3 winners Pure Sensation and Power Alert, last-out Sunshine Millions Turf Sprint victor Amelia’s Wild Ride, and defending race champion Successful Native.
The Pizza Man photo courtesy of Four Footed Fotos
Rainha Da Bateria photo courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography