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Little Mike Will Have Big Following For Canadian Turf
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – The most fashionably bred, most well-connected horses with the most impeccable conformation parade through Gulfstream Park on a daily basis, but it’s a diminutive gelding with relatively obscure parentage that has become the racing fans’ most unlikely and beloved hero.
Little Mike, who will be seeking his sixth victory in seven starts over the past 14 months at Gulfstream Park in Saturday’s $150,000 Canadian Turf (G3), is also the pride and joy of Carlo and Priscilla Vaccarezza.
“It’s unbelievable, not only the amount of money he’s made, but the races he won and how he won them. He basically became the most popular horse in Florida,” said breeder Carlo Vaccarezza, whose wife, Priscilla, owns the Florida-bred overachiever. “When you see him go to the track and when he comes back to the winner’s circle, people break into an ovation. It’s a blessing to have a horse like him.”
Little Mike, who captured three graded stakes at Gulfstream Park last year, has been undefeated in two starts at the current meeting in his customary front-running style, holding on to win an allowance on Dec. 22 by a nose in his first start in eight months before capturing the $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Turf on Jan. 26 by three-quarters of a length.
“His will to win…there are very few horses in the industry that have that,” said Vaccarezza, a New York native who now resides in Parkland.
That tenacious will to win in the physically unimposing son of Spanish Steps is what has made him such a fan favorite.
“He’s a very unusual horse that doesn’t come around often, especially when you don’t breed to the Storm Cats or the Giant’s Causeways of the world and you breed a mare that was in your backyard,” Vaccarezza said. “This horse is a special horse, even though he’s not a nicely bred horse…by Spanish Steps out of a Wavering Monarch mare.”
Little Mike’s mama, Hay Jude, was first bred to the little known stallion, Tiger Ridge, and produced a little colt whom Vaccarezza named Little Nick after his son, Nick.
“When I sent him to Jimmy Crupi in Ocala (to break), he said to me, ‘Carlo, you sent me a weanling.’ I said, ‘No, he’s a yearling,’” Vaccarezza recalled with a chuckle.
Little Nick went on to establish himself as a solid racehorse that has earned more than $475,000 for the Vaccarezzas and his current owner, who claimed him two years ago. A couple years later, before Little Nick got to show his ability as a racehorse, Vaccarezza bred Hay Jude to Spanish Steps, who commanded a $2000 stud fee, and named the equally small offspring Little Mike after his son, Mike.”
“It tells people you don’t need to breed to the best to get the best,” Vaccarezza said.
Little Mike didn’t get to show his true ability until his fourth lifetime start and his first on turf at Monmouth Park on Aug.28, 2010, when he led throughout in the mile maiden special weight race on his way to a 2 ½ -length triumph. He won three of his next four starts before venturing to Gulfstream to give a preview of what was to come in the Fort Lauderdale (G3). Little Mike set the pace under regular rider Joe Bravo before holding on to win by a nose over next-out winner Blues Street.
The Dale Romans-trained gelding tasted defeat in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) in his next start, his sixth-place finish being the last time he has lost. He went on to complete his 2011 campaign with front-running scores in the Canadian Turf (G23) and the Appleton (G3) to distinguish himself as the only horse to collect three graded-stakes triumphs during the meeting and help his owner decorate the walls of his newly opened restaurant Frank & Dino’s in Deerfield Beach.
“I named it Frank & Dino’s in celebration of the lives of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin,” Vaccarezza said. “There are a lot of pictures of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and my horses on the walls.”
Vaccarezza, whose star has earned $495,000 in purses while winning nine of 11 turf starts, is hoping to add another winner’s circle picture to his restaurant’s décor on Saturday, when Little Mike will break from the far outside in the 10-horse Canadian Turf as the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
“It’s a really nice field. I think we’re the class of the race, but you never know,” Vaccarezza said. “One thing is for sure, if they go in 48 or 49 (seconds) for the half, he’ll be tough to beat.”