Owner-Trainer Has Big Plans For Popular Little Mike
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Both he and his horse have always been fond of South Florida, and this winter Carlo Vaccarezza and Little Mike find themselves reunited at Gulfstream Park.
The fledgling trainer welcomed the Grade 1 winner to his barn on March 1, and gave the 7-year-old gelding his first look at the track since arriving from Ocala with an easy three-furlong breeze in 38.56 seconds on Monday.
“He was just galloping, having fun,” Vaccarezza said. “He likes it here. He likes the climate and the surface and he’s settled in pretty good. We may breeze him again, maybe a half [mile] on Saturday or Sunday, and then we’ll put him back in the routine of breezing once a week.”
In his career, Little Mike has run seven times at Gulfstream with five wins including the first graded stakes of his career, the 2011 Fort Lauderdale (G3). He also won the Canadian Turf (G3) and Appleton (G3) in 2011 and kicked off his 2012 campaign with a victory in the Sunshine Millions Turf in 2012, nine months before his biggest score in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Little Mike’s other Grade 1 wins in 2012 came in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and Arlington Million. Vaccarezza is hoping to make both this year as well as the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1), which he won last September before finishing seventh in defense of his Breeders’ Cup title.
“He runs really well every time he runs here at Gulfstream Park,” Vaccarezza said of Little Mike, who he bred himself and is owned by his wife, Priscilla. “If he’s ready, we may run him in an allowance on [March 29] or the following Sunday just to give him a race, and go a mile or mile and a sixteenth. The goal is to go to the Woodford Reserve and then continue the same path that we took a year ago and, hopefully, back to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Though he has been involved in the Thoroughbred industry for more than three decades as a breeder, breaker and owner, Vaccarezza finds himself on a new path after taking over the training of his horses in December from Dale Romans.
The famed restaurateur sold most of his eateries but still owns and operates Frank & Dino’s in Deerfield Beach, which is hosting a benefit for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund beginning at 6 p.m. on March 31. Cost for the event is $150 per person or $2,000 to sponsor a table for 10 guests. The price includes dinner, entertainment and a silent auction, with proceeds going to the PDJF. Patrons are asked to R.S.V.P. by March 28 at 954-427-4909.
“I used to have a big farm in Ocala and I was breaking horses for Mr. [George] Steinbrenner, rest in peace,” Vaccarezza said. “We had a lot of good clients, but breaking horses on a farm in Ocala is a completely different environment than being a trainer at the racetrack. I sold the restaurant and I had the time to do it.
“I talked to Dale and said we should bring some horses here for the summer. He said OK, and the horses that came down were my horses, eight or nine of them. I was here at 4 o’clock in the morning every morning and Dale said, ‘You’re there, I’ll help you out. You should do it.’ I took the test again and got my license back, and here I am.”
Vaccarezza has a dozen horses stabled in barn 14 on the Gulfstream backstretch opposite 84-year-old Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, and another 12 at J.J. Crupi’s New Castle Farm in Ocala.
“I’m blessed to haven Allen in my barn. It’s like going to Harvard University without paying tuition,” Vaccarezza said. “He’s an icon and he’s such a wonderful person, just a wonderful human being. Every morning he tells you something that I would never think in a million years. He makes a lot of sense and by the same token he’ll tell you, ‘Listen, sometimes this is a guessing game.’”
Vaccarrezza’s first two wins as a trainer came with 3-year-old fillies making their career debuts at Gulfstream: Little Alexis on Feb. 9 and Little Michelle on Feb. 21. Owned by his wife, Little Michelle returned to the races Friday and finished third in a $48,750 optional claimer.
Little Alexis was a winner by 1 ¾ lengths at odds of 23-1 in her first start, running 5 ½ furlongs on the main track in 1:02.85, not far from the course record of 1:02.34 set by Discreet Dancer in 2011. Though he has big aspirations, Vaccarezza is staying patient with the daughter of Mr. Greeley.
“Alexis is a very classy filly and I want to take my time with her. I don’t want to rush her,” he said. “She’s a filly that can be in the [Kentucky] Oaks [G1]. I can see her soon in a big race. She has a lot of quality. She likes to go long and she’s probably going to run good going two turns. I had a lot of hopes for her when I bought her and sent her to Crupi in Ocala. He told me, ‘Listen, she’s something special.’ When Dale was training for me I sent her to him in Kentucky and he said she was the real deal. If you hear that from those guys, they know much more than I do.”
Romans remains with Vaccarezza as a consultant in Little Dreams Racing, an ownership group they founded along with veteran owner John Williams in the spring of 2013. The partnership offers investors the chance to own horses for as little as one percent of the purchase price.
Little Alexis was purchased for $32,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale on behalf of Little Dreams, and earned $24,000 in her debut win. Little Michelle brought $2,000 at the same sale, and banked $23,400 for her win.
“It’s basically the same thing as Little Mike, a rags to riches story,” Vaccarezza said. “Little Alexis I bought for $32,000, and she could be anything. The other filly was a $2,000 purchase, and she won really impressively. That’s a good sign, and it sends a great message to the people that want to participate that you don’t necessarily have to buy a million-and-a-half, two million-dollar horse to have fun and have a runner.”