There would be no Little Mike if a mare hadn’t fallen
for Carlo Vaccarezza, and there would be no Little Mike if Vaccarezza hadn’t fallen for a stallion. The way Vaccarezza tells it, his decision to breed those two horses was more impulse than plan, but it resulted in the best horse he’s ever bred--and one of the world’s most versatile turf runners.
Little Mike earned his first win over an international field in the 2012 Arlington Million (G1). Photo Credit Eclipse Sportswire Inc.
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Upper Image: Little Mike led from the start in the 30th running of the Arlington Million. Photo Credit Eclipse Sportswire Inc. Above: Little Mike held off Point of Entry to win the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Photo Credit EquiSport Photos.
There would be no Little Mike if a mare hadn’t fallen for Carlo Vaccarezza, and there would be no Little Mike if Vaccarezza hadn’t fallen for a stallion. The way Vaccarezza tells it, his decision to breed those two horses was more impulse than plan, but it resulted in the best horse he’s ever bred--and one of the world’s most versatile turf runners. Little Mike is out of a mare no one really wanted and by a stallion who sired just 32 other foals in 2007. But the 6-year-old gelding, campaigned by Vacarezza’s wife Priscilla, has beaten all expectations on his way to elite company. He’s already a four-time Grade 1 winner with earnings of more than $3.4 million. On Dec. 8 he’ll attempt to burnish that record with a win in the Hong Kong Cup over a field that also features such runners as French champion Cirrus des Aigles, recent Singapore Cup victor Military Attack and last year’s Hollywood Turf Cup winner Grandeur, who tuned up for the Hong Kong Cup with a win at Goodwood in September. Vaccarezza got his start in racing as a hotwalker at Aqueduct shortly after he immigrated from Italy. Today, he’s a respected restaurateur who owns 25 Thoroughbreds. And Little Mike’s story is as much an American dream as Vaccarezza’s. Hong Kong’s Sha Tin racecourse is a long way, geographically and figuratively, from the Illinois farm where Little Mike’s story really begins, about a decade ago, when his dam Hay Jude first set eyes on Vaccarezza. “Hay Jude is a crazy story,” Vaccarezza recalled. It all began when Vaccarezza was in Chicago overseeing the construction of an olive oil plant. While in Chicago, he visited the farm where his friend Pat Greco, owner of Long Meadow Stables, kept a broodmare band. “I started going to his farm almost on a daily basis,” Vaccarezza said. “I jumped in a golf cart and go
through the paddocks and look at the mares and their pedigrees. I didn’t know who Hay Jude was, but his mare kept following me, everywhere I went. She was like a pet. She used to wait for me to come to the farm, and when I left, she would go to the farthest corner of the pasture and watch me leave the farm. “Fast forward, and one day Tom Swearingen, who trained for Mr. Greco, said to me, ‘Carlo, this mare really likes you.’” Greco was thinning out his mare band, and Swearingen suggested that Vaccarezza take Hay Jude. At first, Vaccarezza demurred, saying he wasn’t interested in a broodmare. But eventually, after he returned from Chicago to his home in Florida, he gave in. Hay Jude shipped to J. J. Crupi’s Ocala training center, where Vaccarezza has horses, but when Crupi saw Hay Jude was a broodmare and not a racehorse, he told Vaccarezza he’d have to find another place to board her.
Top: From a $500 stud fee to $3.4 million in earnings, Little Mike is a rags-to-riches story. Photo Credit Eclipse Sportswire Inc. Bottom: Little Mike and the Vaccarezzas earned their biggest win in the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf. Photo Credit EquiSport Photos.
Top: Little Mike scored a breakout win in the 2012 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic S. (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day. Photo Credit EquiSport Photos. Bottom: The Vaccarezza family has racked up plenty of hardware campaigning Little Mike. Photo Credit Eclipse Sportswire Inc.
“She went to, like, ten different places, and nobody wanted a mare,” Vaccarezza recalled. Finally, Dr. Jean White, an Ocala veterinarian, took Hay Jude in.“I told her, ‘I might breed her, I might not, but there’s just something about this mare.’” Vaccarezza first sent Hay Jude to Tiger Ridge and immediately got a big payoff. The resulting foal, Little Nick, won a trio of stakes and earned $498,609. How did Vaccarezza choose Little Mike’s sire, Spanish Steps? “That’s another crazy story,” he said. “I happened to be in Ocala looking for a farm, and I got lost. I pulled into this farm and asked a man there for directions to so-and-so, and, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen in my life came walking from a paddock to a barn. I asked the gentleman, ‘Who is that horse?’ He told me it was Spanish Steps.” Spanish Steps never raced, but he is a full brother to revered sire Unbridled’s Song, and his looks alone were enough to convince Vaccarezza to book Hay Jude. “I bred my mare for a lousy $500,” Vaccarezza recalled. It’s as well he did, because the product of Hay Jude and Spanish Steps is, of course, Little Mike. “It was meant to be,” Vaccarezza said. J. J. Crupi might not have wanted Hay Jude at his training center, but he was impressed when he got her son by Spanish Steps, Vaccarezza said. “He always told me there was something special about this horse,” Vaccarezza said. “Little Mike wasn’t very big, but he liked him.” There’s been a lot to like. Now the Vaccarezzas hope Little Mike can become the first U.S.-based runner to take the Hong Kong Cup since Val’s Price did it in 1997. “It’s amazing how a horse can change people’s lives,” Vaccarezza said. “Not just in a money situation. Yes, that’s good, the horse makes almost $4 million. But, that aside, there’s the recognition. It’s good for the game to see a horse out of a mare like this bred to Spanish Steps for $500. It’s a dream come true. You don’t necessarily have to breed Serena’s Song to Storm Cat and spend $20 million to have a champion.”
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