by Jim Freer
8 October '13
If you look up the term "gutsy gelding" in the encyclopedia you might find a picture of and a story on Little Mike, last year's Breeders' Cup Turf (Grade 1) champion who is owned by Priscilla and Carlo Vaccarezza of Parkland .
Little Mike is headed toward that race again this year. It will be on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., the site of last year's Breeders' Cup races.
In his final prep for this year's $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf, the 6-year-old Little Mike beat Big Blue Kitten by a nose in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (Grade 1) at Belmont Park on Sept. 28.
Meanwhile, Vaccarezza expects Little Mike will be happy and healthy enough to keep racing next year. And maybe his 2014 season will include his first meeting with the acclaimed turf star Wise Dan,
In the Joe Hirsch, Little Mike showed his tactical speed and grit. With Mike Smith riding him for the first time, he took the lead midway through the stretch and held off a late charge by Big Blue Kitten to win by a nose.
"Mike will ride him again in the Breeders' Cup," Vaccarezza said on Oct. 5th at Gulfstream Park.
Smith is based in California and has ridden numerous stakes winners, including the legendary Zenyatta.
Ramon Dominguez rode Little Mike in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf and in several other races. But he has retired, after suffering a skull fracture in a spill during a race at Aqueduct on Jan. 18.
For the past several months, Little Mike has been at trainer Dale Romans' base at Churchill Downs.
"We will fly Little Mike to California on Oct. 14," Vaccarezza said. "He set a Breeders' Cup record last year. So, he obviously likes it at Santa Anita."
Little Mike won last year's Breeders' Cup Turf in 2:22.83. He took the lead about a quarter mile from the wire and beat the late-running Point of Entry by 1 1/4 lengths.
Carlo Vaccarezza owns Hay Jude, the mother of Little Mike. In 2006, he bred her to Spanish Steps at a farm in Ocala.
Little Mike is named for the Vaccarezzas' son Mike.
The horse Little Mike has won13 of 26 career starts with earnings just under $3.5 million. Four of his wins were in stakes at Gulfstream.
Last year, Little Mike won three Grade 1 turf stakes. In addition to the Breeders' Cup he won the Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs and the Arlington Million at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill. He also won the Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream.
With that record, Vaccarezza felt Little Mike should have won the Eclipse Award as Champion Turf Horse.
But Little Mike finished second to Wise Dan in the voting by racing writers and industry officials. Wise Dan also won the Eclipse for Horse of the Year.
Last year, Wise Dan won five graded turf stakes. He ended his season with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile, a turf race.
Wise Dan had a nine-race win streak, all in graded turf stakes, snapped on Oct. 5th when he finished second to Silver Max in the Shadwell Turf (Grade 2) at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. The Shadwell was moved to Keeneland's main synthetic track because of rain.
Wise Dan also is a 6-year-old gelding.
Inside Florida Horse Racing mentioned to Vaccarezza that many fans and some potential race track sites would like to see a first match-up of Little Mike and Wise Dan.
"There would be a lot of interest, and we'd like to race Wise Dan," said Vaccarezza, who is an owner of and managing partner at Frank & Dino's restaurant in Deerfield Beach.
"But Dale and I won't change our plans just for that," he said. "Wise Dan has shown that he is best at a mile. Little Mike is at his best at longer distances, and a mile and a half seems to suit him."
Vaccarezza added: "Maybe we can find a race next year. The Woodford Reserve is a mile and an eighth. We won it last year and Wise Dan won it this year."
The Woodford Reserve is always the last race right before the Kentucky Derby - and May 3rd is next year's Derby Day.But for the next month, Vaccarezza is not making firm plans past Breeders' Cup day for Little Mike.