(espn.go.com) – The Pizza Man made a lot of dough last year in becoming an Eclipse Award finalist in the older-male turf division. On Saturday, the homebred gelding embarks on what owner Richard Papiese hopes will be another huge year when making his 7-year-old debut as the 122-pound highweight and solid favorite in the 34th running of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.
“He’s a beast,” said Papiese, the Chicago-based businessman who with his wife, Karen, owns Midwest Thoroughbreds, the leading owner in North America by wins in each of the last six years (2010-15).
The Pizza Man earned nearly $1.1 million in a 2015 campaign highlighted by a victory in the Arlington Million, a Grade 1 race in which he defeated Big Blue Kitten, the eventual divisional champion. Papiese and trainer Roger Brueggemann intend to map out another series of races that ultimately will lead back to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in the fall.
First up is the $350,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile race in which he faces seven other older turf horses. The Pizza Man initially had been pointed to the San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, but travel considerations were easier to get him here from his winter base in New Orleans. Javier Castellano has the mount for the first time.
“He’s going to give you three-sixteenths to a quarter of a mile like you’ve never seen before if you don’t get nervous and just wait to pull the trigger,” said Papiese. “You can’t use him early and expect him to have that kick.”
The pace in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap figures to be fast, given the presence of Shining Copper, who, serving as a “rabbit” for stablemate Big Blue Kitten, opened an absurdly long lead in the BC Turf before tiring badly.
“We decided we’re going to have him run a more realistic race Saturday,” said owner Ken Ramsey. “We’re running to win here.”
The Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap directly precedes the Donn Handicap as the 12th of 13 Saturday races. The 2015 winner was Mshawish, who runs this year in the Donn.