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updated: 8/13/2015 6:56 AM

Will Illinois-bred The Pizza Man deliver in Arlington Million?

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  • The Pizza Man won The Grade III Stars and Stripes on July 11 at Arlington as the 4-5 favorite under Florent Geroux.

    The Pizza Man won The Grade III Stars and Stripes on July 11 at Arlington as the 4-5 favorite under Florent Geroux.
    Courtesy of Four-Footed Fotos

  • Jockey Florent Geroux celebrates after winning the American St. Leger aboard The Pizza Man during the International Festival of Racing at Arlington International Racecourse in August 2014. The Pizza Man's owners are hoping the horse can become the first Illinois-bred to capture the Million.

      Jockey Florent Geroux celebrates after winning the American St. Leger aboard The Pizza Man during the International Festival of Racing at Arlington International Racecourse in August 2014. The Pizza Man's owners are hoping the horse can become the first Illinois-bred to capture the Million.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, August 2014

 
 

As Richard Papiese exited Wednesday's Arlington Million post draw at the WGN studios in Chicago, he couldn't help but see the tribute to the famed Bozo's Circus Show in the hallway.

He reminisced about when he saw the show years ago as a child.

While he never got a chance to play the legendary Bozo buckets game, years later he is trying to win a grand prize -- the 33rd Arlington Million to be run Saturday at Arlington International Racecourse.

And if Papiese can, he would make history.

Papiese and his wife Karen are the owners of Illinois-bred The Pizza Man, who drew the No. 7 post in a field of 13 of the world's top turf horses.

An Illinois-bred has never won the Million. The best finish was in 1987 when Arlington chairman Richard Duchossois's Explosive Darling finished fourth.

"I'd love to see him do it," Duchossois said. "We are trying to revise racing in Illinois and an Illinois bred winning the Million would be great.

"We have such tremendous potential for racing. We feel the industry is coming together and in the next two years, we'll see an uphill swing."

Richard Papiese hopes to see The Pizza Man swinging into the lead late in the 1¼-mile Million, which has been won by horses in the No. 1 post the last two years.

In fact, horses breaking from the No. 1 post have won Illinois' richest turf race the last two years and a record seven times overall.

The second winningest post? The Pizza Man's No. 7 slot which has won six times.

"We're very happy there (7 hole)," said Papiese, who played baseball, football and basketball at Washington High School in Chicago. "We won't have to use a lot of speed coming out of the gate and we can get to the rail and save a ton of ground there."

Then he hopes the 6-year-old son of English Channel can make his late run just like he did to win the Grade III Stars and Stripes on July 11 at Arlington as the 4-5 favorite under Florent Geroux.

"We believe he (The Pizza Man) will show up for this race," said Papiese, a Chicago native who owns Midwest Store fixtures in University Park (Cicero). "We respect all the connections here.

"They are great people, great horses, great trainers and great jockeys. But I wouldn't trade our horse with anyone. He's never been happier, never been better. Will he be good enough? We don't know. We think so but this is racing."

The Pizza Man will be racing against one of the largest fields in Million history. There have been five 14-horse fields (1982, 1983, 1986, 1988 and 1994).

Drawing favoritism on Joe Kristufek's morning line is trainer Chad Brown's Big Blue Kitten (3-1), who will start from post No. 4.

From the rail out, the field includes Up With The Birds (12-1), Slumber (7-2), Bookrunner (25-1), Big Blue Kitten (3-1), Wake Forest (12-1), Legendary (15-1), The Pizza Man (10-1), Quiet Force (15-1), Shining Copper (30-1), Triple Threat (6-1), Maverick Wave (8-1), Elleval (30-1) and Belgian Bill (30-1).

Papiese scored his biggest triumph 10 months ago. He and his trainer Roger Brueggemann made national headlines when their Work All Week went off at 19-1 and won the Breeders' Cup Sprint under Geroux by a half length over defending champion Secret Circle at Santa Anita.

Also on hand at Wednesday's draw was Kevin Warner, the owner of Quiet Force.

He was not complaining about drawing the No. 8 post.

"Someone asked me this morning where I would like to be and I said No. 8," Warner said. "And I am thrilled to have (1996 Arlington champ) Robbie Albarado riding. I have all the confidence in the world in him."

The 26th edition of the $700,000 Beverly D features defending champ Euro Charline as the 5-2 morning line favorite. Lacy (20-1) drew the rail followed by Watsdachances (10-1), Stephanie's Kitten (7-2), Lots O' Lex (30-1), Mango Diva (15-1), Carla Bianca (8-1), Maid On a Mission (30-1), Euro Charline, Wedding Vow (4-1) and Secret Gesture (9-2).

Trained by Marco Botti in Newmarket, England, Euro Charline became the first sophomore filly to win the Beverly D. when she outsprinted Stephanie's Kitten to the wire last year.

Heading up the 39th running of the $450,000 Secretariat is Force The Pass, the 2-1 morning line favorite who could join Triple Crown winner and five-time Grade I winner American Pharoah as just the second 3-year-old male to earn multiple Grade I wins this year.

From the rail out, the Secretariat features Closing Bell (10-1), Force the Pass, Goldstream (9-2), Crittenden (12-1), Granny's Kitten (10-1), Highland Reel (5-2) and War Dispatch (4-1).

In addition to the Million, trainer Chad Brown also has the morning line favorite (Hyper at 7-2) for the $350,000 American St. Leger (Grade III) on Saturday.

The Pizza Man was also entered for the St. Leger where he was the 3-1 morning line favorite from the No. 10 post.

Arlington marketing director Howard Sudberry ended the post draw ceremony by asking Papiese if he would reveal which race The Pizza Man would contest.

Papiese answered the Million so Brown's Hyper became the St. Leger morning line favorite at 7-2.

From the rail out, the fourth running of the St. Leger includes Panama Hat (10-1), Roman Approval (8-1), Lucky Speed (5-1), Crucero (8-1), Az Ridge (20-1), Hyper, Xtra Luck (10-1), Calvados (8-1), Alpha Kitalpha (30-1) and Highball (15-1).

Not forgotten at Wednesday's post draw was late Daily Herald horse racing and Blackhawks writer Mike Spellman, who had a $50,000 stakes race run in his honor this past Saturday at Arlington.

Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo said he is planning a permanent tribute for Mike in the Arlington press box.

"Mike was a wonderful guy," said Chicago Tribune racing writer Neil Milbert. "When you'd see him, it always made the day better. He was just enthusiastic, energetic. He enjoyed racing. He worked very, very hard. He was very versatile."

Like Mike, Milbert also covered the Blackhawks for his newspaper.

"Mike was well-respected," added Milbert. "He was the type of person -- it's a cliché -- but I never met a person who did not like Mike Spellman. He was just a genuine, nice, nice, nice guy. Down-to-earth, friendly, intelligent -- he was all of the above. Proud to call him a friend."

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