For The Pizza Man, timing is everything in Arlington Million

 
 
Updated 8/12/2016 3:54 PM
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  • Jockey Florent Geroux, in green silks, wins the Arlington Million in 2015 aboard The Pizza Man during Arlington International Festival of Racing. The Pizza Man will try to become the first back-to-back winner of Arlington's top race, but this time Mike Smith will handle the reins.

      Jockey Florent Geroux, in green silks, wins the Arlington Million in 2015 aboard The Pizza Man during Arlington International Festival of Racing. The Pizza Man will try to become the first back-to-back winner of Arlington's top race, but this time Mike Smith will handle the reins. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Thoroughbred trainer Roger Bruggemann, a native of Freeburg in southern Illnois, was a Chrysler mechanic in Belleville for 30 years before he switched to training horses in the late 1980s. Now he hopes his horse, The Pizza Man, can become the first to win back-to-back Arlington Million races.

    Thoroughbred trainer Roger Bruggemann, a native of Freeburg in southern Illnois, was a Chrysler mechanic in Belleville for 30 years before he switched to training horses in the late 1980s. Now he hopes his horse, The Pizza Man, can become the first to win back-to-back Arlington Million races. Photo courtesy of Arlington International Racecourse

The Pizza Man is on the menu again for Saturday's Arlington Million.

But can the "horse for the course" carve another slice of history in the 34th running of the 1¼-miles Illinois turf classic at Arlington International Racecourse?

Last year, the son of English Channel became the first Illinois bred to win the Million.

When track announcer John Dooley calls the Million out of the starting gate for his 17th straight time, The Pizza Man will try to become the only back-to-back winner in 34 editions of the world's first $1 million thoroughbred race.

Only John Henry (1981 and 1984) has won the race more than once.

Owned by Chicagoans Richard and Karen Papiese (Midwest Thoroughbreds), The Pizza Man is listed at 10-1 in the morningline. He has won 10-of-14 starts at Arlington along with a second and third. Overall, the 7-year-old has 16 wins in 29 starts with a pair of second and third-place finishes.

"Timing is everything with this horse," said trainer Roger Brueggemann, a downstate native who also saddled The Pizza Man to a win in the 2014 American St. Leger. "A perfect trip really helps him. You've got to let him move at the right time."

Like last year, The Pizza Man will have 12 opponents, including 7-2 morningline favorite Tryster, an Irish bred who is owned by Godolphin Racing. The 5-year-old, making his first start in the United States, was fifth in the Group I Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

Trainer Mark Casse's World Approval (4-1), a 4-year-old who won the Untied Nations Stakes at Monmouth, is another top hopeful among the American-bred starters. In his only Arlington appearance, World Approval won last year's Grade III American Derby. Jockey Florent Geroux, who won last year's Million, will ride World Approval.

German-bred Wake Forest (5-1) was sixth in last year's Million when he made his North American debut. He is now trained by Chad Brown. The 6-year-old got his first Grade I win at Belmont Park's Man o' War Stakes in May.

Irish-bred Mondialiste (8-1), a 6-year-old son of champion sire Galileo, returns to the United States for the first time since finishing second behind Eclipse Award champion Tepin in last year's Grade I Breeders' Cup Mile.

Argentina-bred Kasaqui (20-1) seeks to become the first Arlington Handicap champ to win a Million. Trained by Ignacio Correas IV, the 6-year-old is a multiple winner at the Million's ten-furlong distance in his native Argentina.

Another Argentina bred, trainer Bill Mott's Take the Stand (15-1), will make his first start since winning the Grade II Muniz Memorial Handicap in March.

Grade I Belmont Derby winner Deauville (6-1) faces older horses for the first time. The three-year-old, trained by Aidan O'Brien, is the youngest starter and has the 13th post. O'Brien seeks to tie Ron McAnally and Charlie Whittingham for the most Million wins (3).

Trainer Mike Maker's Greengrassofyoming (30-1), winner of the Stars and Stripes by a nose, has won 8 of 36 starts. The 6-year-old son of Quest was claimed by Maker for $62,500 two starts ago.

Grade III Singspiel Stakes winner Danish Dynaformer (30-1) is trained by Roger Attfield and has won 5 of 14 starts while Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott's 4-year-old Dubai Sky (30-1) has won 4 of 6 career starts.

English-bred Decorated Knight (10-1) makes his U.S. debut after winning 4 of 10 starts. Pumpkin Rumble (30-1), a 4-year-old trained by Gary Scherer, has won 4 of 19 starts, all in this country.

At seven years old, The Pizza Man is the oldest starter in the race. The Stars and Stripes on July 9 was the only time he finished out of the money at Arlington. He had a wide trip and finished fourth by less than a length.

Before that, The Pizza Man was fourth in the Grade II Wise Dan at Churchill and fifth in a Grade I race at Gulfstream in February. A late-charging Pizza Man won his last race on Nov. 26, 2015 at Del Mar in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup under jockey Mike Smith. Smith will be riding The Pizza Man for the first time since that race.

Brueggemann has been training horses since the late 1980s. He worked for 30 years as a mechanic for a Chrysler dealership in Belleville, about seven miles from his hometown of Freeburg in southern Illinois.

"I always liked horses and went to the races with friends at Cahokia Downs and Fairmount Park (downstate race tracks)," Brueggemann said. "My hip started bothering me from working as a mechanic and I had some surgeries. My doctors said I had to get off the concrete, so I went from concrete to dirt and became a trainer."

Now he is trying to be the first trainer to win back-to-back Millions.

"You never know when of the good ones are going to come along," Brueggemann said. "Right now is the best he has been all year. I don't worry too much about the other horses in the race. Mine has been running great. I let the others worry about theirs and I worry about mine."

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