ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) — Richard Papiese made his money selling store fixtures.
For several years, the Chicagoan also has been cashing in at the race track with a large and successful thoroughbred racing operation.
Saturday, Papiese scored big with The Pizza Man winning the Grade 1 Arlington Million. The 6-year-old gelding, ridden by Florent Geroux, beat Big Blue Kitten by a neck in Chicago-area racing's biggest race.
The Pizza Man became the first Illinois-bred to win the Million by coming up the middle to overhaul Big Blue Kitten with a sixteenth to go in the 1 1/4-mile turf.
"It's a very special horse that loves to win," Geroux said. "He knows where the wire is."
Geroux brought The Pizza Man from ninth place on a turf course softened by a downpour an hour before post time. Going four-wide around the far turn, he galloped through the field, then went by Shining Copper on the right just after Big Blue Kitten had passed on the left.
"It looked like he was struggling over the very soft track, but when I put him outside he grabbed the bit again and I was thinking, 'Oh boy, he's going for a big one here,'" Geroux said.
Then it was just a matter of catching the Kitten and hanging on.
"We knew he had the speed," trainer Roger Brueggemann said.
Big Blue Kitten came in second for the fourth time in six races, winning the other two.
"He didn't like the ground," jockey Joe Bravo said about Big Blue Kitten. "When Kitten kicks, he's a runner."
The Pizza Man paid $13.60, $6.60 and $4.60. Big Blue Kitten returned $4 and $3.20, and Shining Copper paid $11.60 to show.
The Pizza Man had been cross-entered in Saturday's American St. Leger, which he won last year, but Papiese decided to run him in the Million after a narrow victory in the Stars & Stripes last month. The victory in the Million answered local critics who believed the horse wasn't capable of winning a Grade 1 race.
Now, Papiese, $600,000 richer, is thinking of sending The Pizza Man to the Breeders' Cup at Keeneland.
"First I'll read the papers to see if he belongs there," Papiese said.
Irish-based horses swept the other graded stakes.
Watsdachances edged Stephanie's Kitten by a neck in the Grade 1 Beverly D for fillies after Secret Gesture, the first horse to finish, was disqualified for interfering with Stephanie's Kitten in the stretch. Watsdachances had come from off the pace in the final quarter-mile of the 1 3/16-mile race. Secret Gesture was moved back to third.
Highland Reel ran away to a 5 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes. Closing Bell was second by a head over Force The Pass, which broke from the gate slowly in the 1 1/4-mile turf test. It was Highland Reel's second straight win and first in the U.S.
Lucky Speed took the lead with a sixteenth remaining to capture the Grade 3 1 11/16-mile American St. Leger by three-quarters of a length over Britain's Panama Hat.