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posted: 8/15/2015 11:01 PM

Imrem: No parallels for state horse winning the Arlington Million

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  • Jockey Florent Geroux, right, wins the Arlington Million aboard The Pizza Man during Arlington International Festival of Racing Saturday.

      Jockey Florent Geroux, right, wins the Arlington Million aboard The Pizza Man during Arlington International Festival of Racing Saturday.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer


This was the local equivalent of something, but it's difficult to determine what.

On Saturday afternoon, The Pizza Man became the first Illinois-bred racehorse to win the Arlington Million.

The champ is owned by Richard and Karen Papiese, who grew up and went to high school on the South Side of Chicago.

The winning jockey was Florent Geroux. He's French, as you might have guessed from the name, but his agent is Des Plaines native Doug Bredar.

How appropriate that Mike Ditka, Ozzie Guillen and Denis Savard were in the winner's circle with The Pizza Man.

So what is this the equivalent of, South Side product Derrick Rose sinking the decisive free throws to give the Bulls the NBA title?

OK, so that happening seems quite remote right now.

How about Northwest Indiana native Jeff Samardzija pitching the White Sox to victory in the seventh game of the World Series?

That seems even more remote if you have seen him pitch lately.

"I don't know how to compare it," Richard Papiese said when the Rose/Bulls scenario was proposed to him.

Karen Papiese said, "This is more exciting than the Breeders' Cup, with all our family here," and then added, Harry Caray-style, "Holy cow!"

Whatever comparisons fit, The Pizza Man trainer Roger A. Brueggemann said, "The champagne is in the house and the pizza is on the way!"

So you get the idea that this was more than the normal Million moment. It was a "holy cow" moment for beleaguered Illinois horse racing.

"You don't know what you've done today for Illinois (racing)," Arlington Park general manager Tony Petrillo said to the Papieses.

The Arlington Million is one of the premier international horse races. This year the field included three horses from Great Britain along with one apiece from Germany, France and Ireland.

Yet somehow, some way, a little old Illinois-bred owned by a South Side couple won the Million.

"It's very improbable," Bredar, the jockey agent from Des Plaines said.

How improbable? Well, maybe not as improbable as a kid from Wrigleyville hitting a homer to win the Cubs' first World Series title in more than a century.

Still, pretty improbable.

A couple in the winning horse's entourage weren't shy about noting that Big Blue Kitten owner Ken Ramsey said The Pizza Man "didn't even belong in the race."

Look, the local favorite wasn't like a 50-1 longshot. The Pizza Man went off at a more than respectable 6-1.

But the only thing predictable on this day was the Chicagoland weather being utterly and customarily unpredictable.

First the temperature climbed toward 90 degrees. Then a downpour drenched the turf track shortly after 4 p.m. Then the sun reappeared to witness the Million.

So on a day when anything might occur, an Illinois-bred finally won the Million in the 33rd running of the race.

Richard Papiese didn't think the weather or condition of the course mattered. The Pizza Man was ready for any conditions on this day.

Basking in victory, Bredar showed off that his phone received 44 texts with more to come. Karen Papiese was gushing with pride. And Richard Papiese was wiping sweat from his brow after sweating out the victory in the heat.

"(The Pizza Man) is a local horse," Geroux said. "Even going to the track there was a lot of people cheering for us and I'd like to thank them."

Right back at you, sir, from Illinois' racing community.

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