The Pizza Man, the Illinois-bred gelding whose outstanding career peaked with a victory in the 2015 Arlington Million, has been retired at age 8 after being diagnosed with an ankle chip sustained last weekend in his final race.
Richard Papiese, who bred and raced The Pizza Man with his wife, Karen, under their Midwest Thoroughbreds banner, said Friday from Florida that the gelding suffered a chip of his left front ankle when finishing 12th, beaten just six lengths, in the Arlington Million last Saturday in suburban Chicago.
“We were wondering why he didn’t pick up the bit the way he usually does,” Papiese said.
Papiese said the injury might not require surgery and that “stall rest for six months or so might be enough” to allow The Pizza Man to eventually return to a second career as a pony or jumper.
Trained by Roger Brueggemann for all but five of his 36 career starts, The Pizza Man won 17 races and $2,158,941, the highest earnings ever for an Illinois-bred. A bay gelding by English Channel, he won 12 stakes, five of which were graded. Besides the 2015 Million, he also won the Grade 1 Northern Dancer last fall at Woodbine, the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar in November 2015, the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes at Arlington in 2014 and 2015; and the then-ungraded American St. Leger on the 2014 Million undercard. Every one of his races came over turf, except for his career debut on Dec. 31, 2011.
His dramatic triumph in the 2015 Million under Florent Geroux came by a neck over Big Blue Kitten and evoked waves of emotion from the hometown crowd.
“He gave us a lot of thrilling moments,” said Papiese, whose primary residence is in Chicago. “It was a heck of run. He was there for us, and we’re happy to be there for him now.”
The Pizza Man will be moved soon from Brueggemann’s base at the Trackside training center in Louisville, Ky., for his rehabilitation at Papiese’s Thunder Ranch Farm in Anthony, Fla., just outside of Ocala.