By Sid Fernando and Frances J. Karon
The Pizza Man, a five-year-old gelded son of English Channel and the Lear Fan mare I Can Fan Fan, has been managed expertly by owner-breeder Midwest Thoroughbreds and is now a winner of 11 races from 16 starts, earning $499,803—a money-making model of consistency. An Illinois-bred, he began his career with local Illinois-based trainer Roger Brueggemann at two, was later switched to Tom Amoss for a winter campaign at Fair Grounds in early 2013, and is now back with Brueggemann, for whom he won the Listed Robert F. Carey Stakes last fall at Hawthorne and most recently the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Stakes at Arlington on July 12.
The Stars and Stripes is a 12-furlong turf affair, and it’s not every horse bred in North America that can navigate this demanding trip, so it’s notable that The Pizza Man defeated another son of English Channel, O’Prado Ole, in the race.
The Pizza Man, as his pedigree suggests, is best on turf—the surface of all of his stakes wins, and he’s also bred to go long. His dam, I Can Fan Fan, was a multiple stakes-placed mare also bred in Illinois, by Carolyn and Harry Disko. She won five races from 39 starts, earned $182,993, and was only a neck short of becoming a stakes winner herself. Richard Papiese, who operates Midwest Thoroughbreds with wife Karen, claimed her at the tail end of her career for $18,000, and ran her twice more—both times unplaced—before he retired her to stud.
Because Lear Fan was a top turf son of Roberto, it wasn’t surprising that I Can Fan Fan also was an accomplished turf runner. The Papieses have bred her accordingly: her first foal was by turf horse Mizzen Mast, her second by turf horse Artie Schiller, and then The Pizza Man, by turf horse English Channel.
English Channel, who stood at Lane’s End for $25,000 live foal in 2014, has been a pleasant surprise for North American racing and breeding. On the racetrack, the son of the Mr. Prospector horse Smart Strike was a throwback to his broodmare sire Theatrical (Ire): both were champion turf males at five who excelled at distances of up to 12 furlongs, not attributes U.S. breeders generally appreciate, though it’s notable that the leading sire of 2013, Kitten’s Joy, also was a champion turf horse who sires predominantly turf and all-weather runners.
English Channel developed early enough at two to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Saratoga on turf in his only race as a juvenile, but his metier was obviously stamina and turf. At three he fulfilled this promise by winning three stakes races on turf, the Grade 3 Virginia Derby chief among them, from 1 1/16 miles to 10 furlongs. One of his most impressive races that season was a loss in the 12-furlong Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, in which he was the only three-year-old and ran second by a head to top turf colt Shakespeare (by Theatrical).
His four- and five-year-old campaigns targeted the top distance races on turf in the U.S. Owner James T. Scatuorchio and trainer Todd Pletcher enjoyed back-to-back wins with him in the 11-furlong United Nations and 12-furlong Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, both Grade 1s. Among English Channel’s other triumphs were the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at four and John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf by seven lengths in course-record-equaling time of 2:36.96 at five. His victories in the Breeders’ Cup and in the Joe Hirsch emulated Theatrical’s successes in the same races. He compiled an outstanding race record of 13 wins, four seconds, and a third in 23 starts, with earnings over $5.3 million.
English Channel was retired to Hurricane Hall in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2008 and transferred to Lane’s End two years later when Hurricane Hall ceased operations. He has stood for an advertised fee of $25,000 every year. Calumet Farm’s Brad Kelley, breeding as Bluegrass Hall LLC, has been an avid supporter of the stallion, in whom Kelley is majority owner.
Bred by Keene Ridge Farm, English Channel had been a $50,000 yearling—on par with his sire’s 2003 average—at the Keeneland September sale. He is the first foal out of Belva, an unraced full sister to Pharma-G1 and Hap-G2. His second dam, Committed, was a European champion sprinter and miler, with wins in two important 5½-furlong Group 1 events: the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp (twice) and the William Hill Sprint Championship.
The only chestnut within the first two generations of his pedigree, English Channel is at best 15.3 hands and not a physically imposing individual like Curlin, another top son of Smart Strike, but neither that nor his distance- and turf-oriented resume has stopped him from siring quality runners. His first crop of 107 named foals has yielded all twelve of his unrestricted black-type winners, which include Blueskiesnrainbows-G2, Skyring-G2, Parranda-G2, Potomac River-G3, Channel Lady-G3, Optimizer-G3, and Canadian classic winner Strait of Dover. Skyring and Optimizer race as homebreds for Kelley, who co-bred Channel Lady with Scatuorchio and other partners.
It’s notable that English Channel’s first crop, now five, is still racing successfully—all eight of his 2014 stakes winners are age five! In this day and age when it seems that many horses are done after three, this is quite a pleasant anomaly.