06/18/2016 9:24PM

Pleuven overshadows The Pizza Man in Wise Dan

Coady Photography
Pleuven, under Channing Hill, earns his first graded stakes win in the Grade 2 Wise Dan.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. –  The Pizza Man, winner of last year's Arlington Million but off since February, got a race Saturday night in the Grade 2, $200,000  Wise Dan Stakes at Churchill Downs, but it was Pleuven who got the money.

Under a perfect stalking trip from Channing Hill, Pleuven drafted behind the early leaders in fourth behind splits of 48.31seconds  and 1:11.82 in the 1 1/16-mile Wise Dan, found room at the top of the stretch,  and quickened past the leader and eventual runner-up Kasaqui to score the first graded stakes win of his career. He won by three quarters of a length.

The Pizza Man could only muster a belated rally after trailing early, closing to be fourth, three lengths behind the winner, and three-quarters of length behind third-place finisher Thatcher Street.

Pleuven was  always a horse with talent, winning a stakes in France in 2014 and two allowances at Gulfstream Park in early 2014, but  the Wise Dan represented a significant step forward. In two prior starts this year, he had run a close fifth in an allowance at Keeneland on April 21, and second to Thatcher Street in the Opening Verse on May 21.

Hill said he felt the difference between the Opening Verse and the Wise Dan was related to the race shaping up favorably.

“He got the trip that he needed, and he punched really hard all the way to the wire,” he said.

A 5-year-old gelded son of Turtle Bowl, Pleuven raced 1 1/16 miles on a firm turf course in 1:40.96, paying $17.20.

Phil Sims, who trains Pleuven for owner Nelson McMakin, said his horse was giving him signals that suggested he was ready for a top effort. 

“We had to give this race a shot today,” he said.

As for The Pizza Man, the race came at a distance shorter that what he prefers. His rally left his jockey Florent Geroux hopeful for “a nice campaign for the summer.”

The Wise Dan Stakes, formerly run as the Firecracker, was renamed this year in honor of the 2012-2013 Horse of the Year, and came on a turf course where he was perfect in four starts.

Wise Dan, now living a comfortable life on the farm of his trainer, Charlie LoPresti, after being retired with a tendon injury in September, was paraded in the Churchill paddock before the race to the appreciation of the crowd.