Pizza Bianca rallies to win the Hilltop, Royal Ascot looms

Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

Baltimore

No one will confuse Pimlico with Ascot. But as far as Bobby Flay is concerned, Pizza Bianca’s victory by odds Friday in the $100,000 Hill Stakes was an important stepping stone to bringing his filly to next month’s royal meeting in England.

And annoying, too. At least it was for him.

“I’m always nervous,” he said. “When you’re 2-5, you just want to shoot. But she performed very well.

Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner came back from her season-opening loss last month at Aqueduct to take a 1 3/4 win in her final stoppage before being listed in the $625,000 Coronation Stakes (G1). Like Friday’s race, it’s for 3-year-olds to run a mile on grass. Unlike Friday’s race, it’s during what might be the most prestigious meeting in the world.

“It’s an incredible experience,” said Flay, the celebrity chef who took his 3-year-old filly, More Than Real, to the same race 11 years ago when she finished 11th out of 12. “She didn’t run so well. It was a very swampy racecourse. But that doesn’t matter. I always say that these race horses can bring you wonderful experiences. For me, that’s what ‘it’s about. “

Trained by Christophe Clément, who was not at Pimlico on Friday, and ridden by José Ortiz, Pizza Bianca did what they always do by giving ground to the early leaders before gradually eliminating their rivals in stride. Unlike last month, when she ran out three-quarter lengths in the Memories of Silver, she shook off second-place stablemate Diamond Hands (7-1) and third-place Vergara ( 9-2) with over 100 yards to spare.

“The flow of the race was very different from last time,” Ortiz said. “Last time it was a small field. They went in 50 (seconds for the first half mile). I was very close and had to move a little early, three wide, but the winner beat me outside of me. This time she circled and sat down, and I let the speed build up before coming up with a run.

The pace was faster on Friday. Murph (10-1), eventually sixth, came out in 23.31, 47.56 and 1:11.38 for the first three quarter mile before Pizza Bianca made his decisive move to win with a time of 1: 36.54 on the firm turf course baked even drier by the 87 degree temperature.

“We asked Jose to take a break and put him to sleep,” Flay said. “Let her go around the track and just ask her when she needed to be asked.”

Pizza Bianca is a filly bred by Fastnet Rock and Flay’s Galileo broodmare, White Hot.

“She was the mare’s first foal,” he said, “so that’s looking from here, let’s put it that way.”

Now Flay is hoping for an even better visit to the south of England on Friday, June 17, for the mile one lap this year than he did in 2011. He could have stayed home so that Pizza Bianca competes in the Turf Tiara series, but he couldn’t resist the bait there.

“Look, I’m a New York native,” he said. “These races are fantastic. We needed those races, and they are important. But there are three. And we’ll jump first to hang out with the queen.