Priscilla Vaccarezza will have quite a story to tell in a few weeks when she comes back to town for a 30th reunion of Glenbard North High School.
Despite having lived in Carol Stream and a few other towns in the Chicago area for many years, Vaccarezza had never been to Arlington Park until Saturday, when she was in attendance with her husband Carlo and two sons.
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It gets better. A million times better.
On a picture-perfect day and with a crowd of 34,022 on hand, Vaccarezza was the winning owner in the 30th running of the Arlington Million with a horse named after her 10-year-old son.
Little Mike was Iron Mike, leading all the way around the famed Arlington turf course with plenty in reserve under jockey Ramon Dominguez to hold off English-bred Afsare by 1½ lengths at the finish.
The gelded son of Spanish Steps set soft factions and finished in 2:02.44 over a track listed as good.
"When I saw 1:15 (for 6 furlongs), I turned to Dale (Romans, Little Mike's trainer) and said 'It's over,'" said Carlo Vaccarezza, a thoroughbred breeder and owner of two Italian restaurants near Parkland, Fla. "You cannot give this horse that kind of lead."
Going into the race, the main question was whether the front-running Little Mike could handle the distance.
"He had been training solid, and his two best races had been at 1 miles -- and no one thought he could go 1 miles," Romans said of Little Mike, who went off the co-second betting choice ($9.80 to win) behind favored Crackerjack King (Ireland), who finished fifth.
"If anyone asks, we can go a mile and a half," Carlo Vaccarezza added. "To be honest, I was on pins and needles. Nobody believed in this horse. This horse ran tremendously. Dale Romans did a fantastic job."
It made for a fantastic homecoming of sorts for Priscilla, who watched with the race with her two sons, both sporting nifty suits and ties.
"Nick is a little more into it right now than Mike," she said. "We also had a horse named Little Nick, but we sold it. Nick really follows the horses and aspires to be a trainer."
Priscilla has an aunt who lives in Arlington Heights and she also made it to the race on Saturday. "She was my good luck charm," Priscilla said.
The Eclipse Award-winning Dominguez, who won the 2009 Million aboard Gio Ponti, was atop Kentucky-based Little Mike for the first time. Regular rider Joe Bravo rode a horse for trainer Todd Pletcher at Saratoga.
"Turning for home when I decided to let him run, he beautifully started opening up," Dominguez said. "He galloped home like a freight train."
Little Mike increased his earnings to $1,436,412 after finishing third in Hollywood's Grade I Shoemaker Mile.
Before that, he won Churchill's Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day.