Ron the Greek stuns field at 21-1 in G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup
By Jenny Kellner | 09/28/2013 07:52 PM ET
Ron The Greek
Ron the Greek, overlooked at 21-1 in a Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational field of Grade 1 stars, barreled into the lead on the far turn and pulled clear to an overpowering 6 3/4-length triumph in the 95th edition of the Grade 1, $1 million race on Saturday at Belmont Park.
The victory over Belmont Stakes hero Palace Malice, two-time defending champion Flat Out and Kentucky Derby winner Orb, among others, earned Ron the Greek an all-fees paid trip to the Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita Park as part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Challenge series.
Ridden by Jose Lezcano, Ron the Greek broke sharply and positioned himself in fourth, just 2 ½ lengths behind Grade 1 Woodward winner Alpha, who led through an opening quarter-mile in 23.99 seconds. Moving up to third as the half went in 47.28 and three-quarters in 1:10.78, the 6-year-old son of Full Mandate launched his bid approaching the quarter-pole and swept into the stretch with a two-length advantage that he steadily widened to the wire.
"You gotta love Ron," said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who trains Ron the Greek for Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable, Jack Hammer and Gary Barber. "Everybody loves Ron the Greek! This is the Ron the Greek today. This is the same type of race he ran in the Sunshine Millions [in January], the same type of race he ran in California when he won the Santa Anita Handicap. Every once in a while, he'll throw one of these. I can't determine when, but he did it today."
Ron the Greek's time for 1 ¼ miles was 1:59.70, the fastest running of the Gold Cup since Evening Attire stopped the clock in 1:59.58 in 2002.
"I put him in position, and when I asked him he took off and was gone," said Lezcano. "He never stopped. It was unbelievable."
Runner-up Palace Malice finished 1 ¾ lengths in front of 5-2 favorite Flat Out, Ron the Greek's stablemate who was bidding to become the first horse since Kelso, who won five straight from 1960-64, to win three consecutive runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Vitoria Olimpica, at 33-1 the longest shot in the field, finished fourth, and strung out behind him were Last Gunfighter, Alpha, Cross Traffic - who missed the break - and Orb.
"I thought [Palace Malice] ran great," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who also saddled Vitoria Olimpica and Cross Traffic in the Gold Cup. "He showed his 3-year-old form was legit. He ran well against older horses; he beat a lot of nice older horses today. Ron the Greek is one of those horses that on occasion runs a monster race, and today he did."
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey was confounded by the last-place finish of Orb in what was the Derby winner's worst outing of 2013.
"It's pretty puzzling," said McGaughey. "He'd been doing well. He broke good and was sitting in a good position, but at the five-eighths pole, I could see that he dropped the bit, and that was the end of it. He never tried to run after that. I don't know."
The win was Ron the Greek's ninth in 29 starts, including victories in the 2012 Grade 1 Stephen Foster and Santa Anita handicaps. This year, after winning the Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream Park, he finished fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap, third in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic, third in the Stephen Foster, and fourth in both the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap -
won by Cross Traffic - and Woodward at Saratoga Race Course.
"I had a flashback to the race in Florida this winter when he won the Sunshine Millions," said Mott. "I said, 'Man, oh, man. He's up there close to the pace today.' We didn't try to plan that. I just told Jose [Lezcano] to let him place himself, the way we always do. He's old enough - he knows how he wants to run, and he wanted to run big today."
Ron the Greek returned $44 for a $2 win bet to his backers in the Super Saturday crowd of 10,549 and earned $600,000, pushing his career bankroll to $2,704,691. Mott - whose Royal Delta finished second earlier on the card in the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational - said both Ron the Greek and Flat Out were likely for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"We always think about [running Royal Delta in the Breeders' Cup Classic]," said Mott. "From my perspective, it looks like I have maybe a pair [Ron the Greek and Flat Out] to run in the Classic. I'd like to cover the Distaff as well. That has to be talked about with [Royal Delta's owner] Mr. [Benjamin] Leon."