December 2, 2023

Pizza Bianca takes Hilltop as Royal Ascot appetizer

Pizza Bianca wins the Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico (Photo by Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay is Royal Ascot-bound after his homebred Pizza Bianca justified 2-5 favoritism in Friday’s $100,000 Hilltop S. at Pimlico. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) heroine surged past stablemate Diamond Hands to top the exacta for trainer Christophe Clement.

Flay also bred the winner of Friday’s Pimlico Special (G3), First Captain, who sold for $1.5 million as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling.

Nominated to the June 17 Coronation S. (G1) for sophomore fillies at the Royal meeting, Pizza Bianca was coming off a second in the April 24 Memories of Silver S. at Aqueduct. But that seasonal reappearance didn’t set up well for her, as a paceless affair. The Hilltop served up a much more genuine tempo that played into her hands.

Murph sped to a daylight lead through fractions of :23.31, :47.56, and 1:11.38 on the firm turf. Diamond Hands was her nearest pursuer, and accordingly the first to challenge in the stretch.

By that point, however, Jose Ortiz had Pizza Bianca warming to her task. Rolling from well off the pace, the Fastnet Rock filly drew 1 3/4 lengths clear while polishing off the mile in 1:36.54.

Vergara, the 4.70-1 second choice, stayed on dourly to miss catching Diamond Hands by a head in third. Lady Puchi flashed home belatedly in fourth, just a neck off Vergara. Determined Gold overhauled the fading Murph, who was followed by Hail To and Determined Star.

Ortiz’s comments to the Maryland Jockey Club contrasted the Hilltop’s scenario to Pizza Bianca’s Aqueduct comeback in the Memories of Silver:

“The flow of the race was way different from last time. Last time, it was a much slower pace. They went (a half-mile) in :50, and she was pretty close and I had to move a little early, three wide. I think today was much better – the way she wants to run: sit back, let the speed develop and come with one run.

“Honestly, down the backside, they went a little bit too fast early on. I felt I was in a perfect position. I knew from the five-eighths pole that I was sitting on a lot of horse. I felt very confident from that point.

“She ran a very good race last time off the bench. It was a pretty tough deal. She was ready, just got beat. But I think it was circumstances of the race that got her beat. She was a little keen off the layoff. Today, she was more relaxed. I sat on her out of the gate, just to let her know that we weren’t going anywhere close to the pace.”

Pizza Bianca’s scorecard stands at 5-3-2-0, $717,635. A last-to-first winner in her Saratoga debut last summer, the dark bay was a respectable runner-up to Godolphin’s British shipper Wild Beauty in the Natalma (G1) at Woodbine. In the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, Pizza Bianca sliced her way through the field under a superb Ortiz ride to prevail by a half-length.

The Kentucky-bred is out of the exquisitely-bred Galileo mare White Hot, who is herself a half-sister to 2011 Epsom Derby (G1) star Pour Moi. The mare is also a three-quarter sister to multiple Group 3 scorer and classic-placed Gagnoa, the dam of Group 3 winners Etoile and Ancient Rome (also multiple Group 1-placed). White Hot’s full siblings include Group 3 victor and classic-placed Dawn Patrol as well as stakes heroine Kissed.

Later in the $100,000 The Very One S., Clement was going for a stakes double with 8-5 favorite Honey Pants, but had to settle for a closing second to frontrunning Can the Queen. Bet down from a 12-1 morning line to 6.80-1, the Rodolfo Sanchez-Salomon mare spurted away entering the stretch and held sway by 1 1/2 lengths. Victor Carrasco guided the daughter of Can the Man through five furlongs in :57.09.

Whispurring Kitten, who chased early, held third while Adelaide Miss got up for fourth. Next came Epic Idea, Phantom Vision, Spun Glass, Payntdembluesway, and Princess Kokachin. Dendrobia, Door Buster, and the main-track-only Hey Mamaluke were scratched.

Joanne Shankle’s Can the Queen was scoring her second stakes victory at this course and distance, after the Sensible Lady Turf Dash last July. The Maryland-bred six-year-old was most recently fourth versus males in the April 23 King T. Leatherbury, and she has bankrolled $243,853 from her 16-6-0-1 line.