Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Friday, September 23, 2016

| Churchill Downs Communications | 09/23/2016 #
  • 2016 Leading Trainer Larry Rivelli

  • Helicopter (middle) battles between horses to win at Arlington (Four Footed Fotos)

  • Helicopter Shutting Down His Engines After Saturday
  • Rivelli Finishes Strong Season to Secure Training Title
  • The Pizza Man Warms Up with Win in Grade I Northern Dancer


The 10-year-old Helicopter will run his final race on Saturday at Arlington International Racecourse. Richard Ravin and Christine Wagner’s gelding, who has been a local fixture at the Chicagoland oval since 2009, will make his last start on Sept. 24 according to trainer Larry Rivelli. Arlington will honor Helicopter with a tribute video Saturday as he looks to secure his 30th career victory.

“He doesn’t owe us anything,” Rivelli said. “He’s a fantastic horse. He’s lost a step – he still loves to compete but he’s gotten older. The owners and I just decided it’s time. The last day at Arlington seemed right.”

Bred in Florida by Hidden Point Farm, the son of graded-stakes winner Three Wonders made his racing debut at Calder in May of 2008 where he was claimed by trainer Daniel Hurtak. He raced 18 times in Florida for Hurtak before being privately purchased by Wayne Catalano. Catalano brought him north to Hawthorne Racecourse, where Helicopter broke his maiden by 2¼ lengths in the spring of 2009. Two starts later he was at Arlington, racing on a synthetic track for the first time. He won three in a row on the Polytrack, finished second, then won again – this time getting claimed by Rivelli. He picked up a few more checks at Arlington then took his show on the road and won over the Polytrack courses at Keeneland and Woodbine. He finished his 3-year-old season with nine wins from 17 starts.

Helicopter picked right back up in 2010 with another win over the dirt at Hawthorne, then four more in a row over the main track at Arlington. He won twice over the synthetic at Presque Isle and traveled back to Woodbine to compete in the Valedictory Stakes, where he finished third. He completed the season with seven wins in 13 starts. Despite the years starting to add on, Helicopter showed no signs of slowing down. When he was claimed from Rivelli in 2013, it was only three races later before he was privately purchased back to Rivelli’s barn. That’s where he’s been ever since.

Rivelli has stated the old iron horse can be difficult to train, and it is a testament to the trainer’s patience that he has kept Helicopter in good form in these later years. In the last two seasons, the gelding has only finished out of the money twice in 15 starts. After his 94th and final race, he will retire to Dr. Jean White’s farm in Ocala, Florida to live out his days. Win or lose Saturday, Helicopter has been a reliable runner, fan-favorite, and will be missed circling the track at Arlington.


Larry Rivelli has secured the Leading Trainer title at Arlington International Racecourse for the fourth time going into the final two days of the 2016 race meeting. At the start of racing on Friday, Rivelli commanded 55 wins from 219 starters, earning himself a 25% win rate with 53% of all finishers in the money.

“It’s always nice to do it here at home,” Rivelli said. “I think we brought the right horses for the venue. It’s a tribute to my owners – I’ve got to thank Richard Ravin, Vince Foglia (Patricia’s Hope, LLC), and Carolyn Wilson for letting us run them here. Winning [number 1,000] here was great.”

Rivelli’s success came not just for himself but also his owners as Patricia’s Hope, LLC netted the Leading Owner’s title for the 2016 season as well with 28 wins as of Friday. The pair teamed up to win with Goodbye Greg at Arlington on July 22, earning Rivelli his 1,000th career victory. Rivelli trained horses for Arlington’s Racing Club and helped its participants learn about racehorse ownership.  Rivelli also found success with his 2-year-olds this meet, winning with his homebred Riv over the summer, and taking the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity with Wellabled.


Midwest Thoroughbreds’ The Pizza Man earned his first win of the season in the Grade I Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine on Sept. 17, defeating 2016 Arlington Million rivals Wake Forest and World Approval. Piloted for the first time by California-based French jockey Flavien Prat, The Pizza Man stalked pace-setter World Approval through sluggish fractions on a good turf course, and then surged past when headed by Wake Forest in the stretch of 1½-miles race. The Roger Brueggemann trainee had finished no better than fourth in his four previous starts this year against graded-stakes company.

The now 7-year-old son of English Channel is likely to point for the Grade I Canadian International stakes following his success over the track at Woodbine. The gelding followed the same path in 2014 – after a fifth place finish in the Northern Dancer that year he ran fourth in the Canadian International. Brueggemann said The Pizza Man didn’t ship well that year, and then was moved too early in the long stretch.

“I was worried [this time] that he was too close to the front, but then I saw the fractions,” Brueggemann said. “That’s what you hire the jockey for, to know the pace of the race, how fast or slow they are going. [Prat] had never ridden the horse before, but he did a good job letting him relax and run.”

Another try at the Breeders’ Cup Turf, in which The Pizza Man finished fifth in last year, hasn’t been completely ruled out, but Brueggemann says another run in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar in November could be on the schedule if they bypass the trip to Santa Anita. The Pizza Man won the 1½-miles race at the seaside oval in 2015 and finished second in the 2014 edition.