JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP | PURSE: $1 MILLION | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 ¼ MILES
Ron the Greek picked a perfect time to snap out of a lengthy slump when he demolished the field in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup in a 21-1 upset Sept. 28 at Belmont Park.
Left alone to stalk the pace from the rail in third for jockey Jose Lezcano, Ron the Greek cut the corner superbly as leaders Alpha and Palace Malice floated out. The son of Full Mandate took command in the lane to win by 6 ¾ lengths. The final time for the 1 ¼-mile journey was an excellent 1:59.70 on a fast track.
Skip Away owns the stakes mark at 1 ¼ miles of 1:58.89 established in 1997, while the track mark of 1:58.33 was set by In Excess in 1991.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott for Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable, breeder Jack T. Hammer, and Gary Barber, Ron the Greek earned $600,000 for the victory and earned a return trip to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.
Six-year-old Ron the Greek ran fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita after winning the Santa Anita Handicap earlier in the season.
Ron the Greek, who had lost five straight races this season, paid $44, $17.40, and $7.20 across the board while topping a $222 exacta.. Palace Malice held second, returning $5 and $3.10. Flat Out, seeking his third consecutive Gold Cup victory for Mott, had to settle for third as the slight 5-2 favorite over Palace Malice, paying $2.50.
The victory was the first for Ron the Greek since his romp in the Sunshine Millions Classic on a sloppy track in January. Since then, he had managed just a pair of third-place finishes and was coming off back-to-back fourth-place efforts in the Whitney Invitational Handicap and the Woodward Stakes, both at Saratoga Race Course.
"You gotta love Ron. Everybody loves Ron the Greek! This is the Ron the Greek today," Mott said. "This is the same type of race he ran in the Sunshine Millions, 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."
Breaking from the inside post, Lezcano kept Ron the Greek pinned to the rail as Alpha sprinted to the early lead when expected pacesetter Cross Traffic stumbled out of the gate. Alpha opened up early by about two lengths while setting a quick tempo for the distance. Flat Out chased the leader early before dropping back a bit into fourth and Belmont Stakes winner applied the pressure.
Ron the Greek, meanwhile, was much more forwardly placed than usual in third as quarter mile fractions of :23.99, :47.28, and 1:10.78 unfolded. Rounding the far turn, Palace Malice moved alongside Alpha and appeared poised to take control as they reached the quarter pole in 1:35.08.
But as the leaders battled off the turn while drifting out, Ron the Greek slipped through and quickly gained command. There were no dangers through the lane as Ron the Greek widened his advantage impressively.
"He broke good and seemed like a different horse today," Lezcano said. "I put him in position, and when I asked him he took off and was gone. He never stopped. It was unbelievable."
"I had a flashback to the race in Florida this winter when he won the Sunshine Millions," Mott said. "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 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."
Palace Malice, ridden by Mike Smith, was a clear second over Flat Out and Junior Alvarado. Brazilian-bred Vitoria Olimpica took fourth as the longest shot in the field, followed by Last Gunfighter, Alpha, Cross Traffic, and Kentucky Derby victor Orb.
Ron the Greek, bred in Florida by Hammer out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Flambe, posted his ninth lifetime win in 29 starts and upped his career earnings to $2,704,691. In addition to the Santa Anita Handicap, he captured the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs last year.
The victory took the sting out of the "Super Saturday" program for Mott, whose two-time champion mare Royal Delta was upset earlier on the card in the Beldame Stakes. Mott previously won the JC Gold Cup last year with Flat Out and with two-time Horse of the Year Cigar in 1995. (Scooter Dickey trained Flat Out to victory in the 2011 Gold Cup.)
Asked about his Breeders' Cup plans, Mott said, "We always think about [running Royal Delta in the Breeders' Cup Classic]. 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."
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he was pleased with how well Palace Malice performed in his first try against older horses.
"He ran well against older horses; he beat a lot of nice older horses today," Pletcher said. "Ron the Greek is one of those horses that on occasion runs a monster race, and today he did."