The clouds threatening to blot out Illinois racing shall part this afternoon and the contenders in the Arlington Million will take the track. For a couple of minutes there will be no financial woes or wondering if there will be racing here again next year. The gates will spring open and horse, rider and “the trip” will be all that matters.
The Pizza Man is 10-1 on the morning line but to his fans, this Illinois bred is a clear cut favorite. Without assistance the era of Chicagoland racing may be gone – sooner rather than later. Bill Finley, in his ESPN piece, clearly outlines the issues facing racing at the once venerable oval. But The Pizza Man is more than a horse in a big race. He’s a symbol of what Illinois once was and still aspires to be; what it can be if given the chance.
He may not be regally bred but he’s by a very good sire, English Channel, out of a workwomanlike mare, I Can Fan Fan which befits a foal of the Second City. Generally the horse sits off the pace and grinds down rivals late, working hard for every one of his fourteen wins. A blue collar horse that worked his way into the boardroom.
His owner/breeder, Midwest Thoroughbreds, has done much the same. Snubbed by Eclipse balloters despite winning more races, at more races, at more levels than any other owners since 2010, Midwest keeps on winning. Even campaigning Breeders’ Cup winner and Male Sprint Champion Work All Week while leading the nation in wins again couldn’t garner an Eclipse for the owners. Blue collar versus the blue bloods.
A six year old gelding can’t save Arlington Park and Illinois racing; that is going to rest on the shoulders of politicians, racetracks and casino operators – historically not a good mix in Illinois. But to steal a piece of Finley’s headline, he is “emblematic” of what Illinois racing was and can still be.
The Pizza Man will step into the gate this afternoon with more riding on him than Florent Geroux. He’ll carry the hopes of the Prairie State with him. Whether he wins or not, like the people that work day in and day out at Arlington, Hawthorne and Fairmount to keep bringing racing to the public, he’ll work hard to bring it home.