11/26/2015 6:07PM

The Pizza Man captures Hollywood Turf Cup

Benoit & Associates
The Pizza Man, ridden by Mike Smith, takes the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup by two lengths Thursday.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Jockey Mike Smith bounded out of the winner’s circle after the featured race on Thursday at Del Mar and espied clerk of scales Charlie McCaul.

“Pizza for Thanksgiving, Charlie!” Smith shouted.

Why not? Smith had just made an on-time delivery with the popular The Pizza Man, who rallied from 11th in a 14-horse field to capture the Grade 2, $252,250 Hollywood Turf Cup, which kicked off the four-day turf festival that will close the Del Mar meeting.

The Pizza Man ($4.20) was strongly favored to beat his 13 rivals, but he got no favors in terms of pace, with longshot Southern Freedom taking the field through dawdling fractions of 51.10 seconds for a half-mile and 1:17.28 for six furlongs.

But when Smith turned The Pizza Man loose with a quarter-mile to go, he unleashed a furious rally that brought him to the front just inside the furlong pole, after which he kicked clear to win by two lengths over Big John B, who closed from last to get second.

Power Foot and his Neil Drysdale-trained stablemate Power Ped were third and fourth and were followed by Quick Casablanca, Wanstead Gardens, Southern Freedom, Texas Ryano, Up With the Birds, Class Leader, Danas Best, Generoso, Ganesh, and Procurement.

The also-eligibles Flamboyant and Bird E House did not draw in.

The Pizza Man was timed in 2:31.75 for 1 1/2 miles on firm turf, the slow pace obviously impacting the final time. He covered his final quarter-mile in about 23 seconds.

The win was the 16th in 26 starts for The Pizza Man, who is 4 for 6 this year, his biggest victory coming in the Arlington Million. He was fifth most recently in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. His record this year makes him a contender for the Eclipse Award as champion male turf horse.

The Pizza Man was third in the Del Mar Handicap a year ago.

“Different result, different ride,” his owner and breeder, Richard Papiese – who races as Midwest Thoroughbreds with his wife, Karen – said in the winner’s circle.

Smith replaced Florent Geroux, who had ridden The Pizza Man in his previous 10 starts, resulting in five wins, all in stakes, including the Million.

“Mike let him run his race, and when he gets to run his race, he’s tough to beat,” Papiese said. “Mike said he was going to be eight to 10 lengths off of it, and I said, ‘You’re going to love the afterburners when they kick in.’ ”

The Pizza Man earned $150,000 to bring his career earnings to just shy of $1.9 million. He is trained by Roger Brueggemann.