Little Mike, Joe Hirsch Classic, Belmont Park, 28th September 2013
Trained by Dale Romans, Sire: Spanish Steps. Dam: Hay Jude
Priscilla Vaccarezza and her husband Carlo are no strangers to celebrities. They co-owned restaurants with baseball star Rusty Staub in New York and actor Mickey Rourke in Miami, and had New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as a client when they operated Break of Dawn Farm near Ocala, Florida.
Carlo, a native of Genoa, Italy, moved to New York and had a brief stint as a hotwalker at Aqueduct in the late 1960s. He bought his first horse in the early ’70s as he continued his incredibly successful restaurant career. In New York, he and Priscilla, who is 13 years younger than her husband, teamed with Staub to run Rusty’s, and they operated Mickey’s with Rourke. Now, the Vaccarezzas operate two restaurants in Florida: Damiano in Boca Raton and Dino’s in Deerfield Beach.
They’ve had a handful of successful horses, including stakes winners My Due Process and Little Nick, Little Mike’s half-brother.
Little Mike has taken the Vaccarezzas to a whole new level. After losing his first four starts on dirt – a surface he has not run on since – he has prospered on grass, where he displayed his dazzling early speed. Dale Romans took over as Little Mike’s trainer after he won the 2011 Grade 3 Fort Lauderdale by a nose. He had previously been trained by William White, who had him for his first two starts, and Allen Iwinski.
Last year, Little Mike won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs and the Grade 1 Arlington Million. When he didn’t make the lead in last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf, who would have expected him to change running styles on that stage? Yet Little Mike did. He relaxed under jockey Ramon Dominguez and rated in third. And then he won. It was a ride for the ages.
Little Mike, though, hadn’t even hit the board in four starts this year, the first two in Dubai, until the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes. Yet he displayed his huge heart by grimly holding off challenges on his outside and inside to prevail in the race by a nose for his thirteenth victory in 21 grass starts. He has earned more than $3.4 million. That’s enough to open several restaurants.