If Bill Mott had his druthers, he would have run Ron the Greek in Saturday’s $400,000 Kelso Invitational going a mile at Belmont Park rather than the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles.
Mott had two-time defending Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out in the race, and with Ron the Greek having lost his last five starts, Mott thought it might be time to try something different with the 6-year-old son of Full Mandate.
“I thought maybe it’s time to back Ron up to a mile,” Mott said. “I really believe he can close and finish with milers if he gets the proper pace in front of him.”
Mott’s owners Adam Wachtel, Nils Brous and Gary Barber wanted to give Ron the Greek one more shot in a big race. That decision paid off huge as Ron the Greek delivered one of the best performances of his career, romping to a 6 3/4-length victory in Saturday’s $1 million Gold Cup before 10,549 on a gorgeous Saturday.
“I felt strongly about running in this race,” Wachtel said by phone from Pennsylvania where he had a prior engagement. “If Bill said he didn’t think it was the right thing to do, then we wouldn’t have run, but he didn’t feel that strongly about it. He’s a Grade 1 horse and you never know when he’s going to run a big race.”
The victory earned Ron the Greek a fees-paid trip to Santa Anita and the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race in which he finished fourth last year. Ron the Greek won the Santa Anita Handicap there in 2012.
Palace Malice, the Belmont Stakes winner, finished second in the Gold Cup by 1 3/4 lengths over Flat Out, who suffered his second loss in seven starts at Belmont. They were followed in the order of finish by Vitoria Olimpica, Last Gunfighter, Alpha, Cross Traffic — a front-runner who broke horribly and was last early — and Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner.
The win capped a tremendous return for jockey Jose Lezcano, who was riding for the first time since he broke his wrist at Saratoga on Aug. 25. In addition to winning the Gold Cup, Lezcano won the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational aboard Laughing on Saturday.
The connections of Ron the Greek had been frustrated because they felt the late-running horse had been compromised by slow paces in his races. In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Ron the Greek was sitting third, within three lengths of Alpha, who set the pace after Cross Traffic, the expected pacesetter, had all four of his legs go in different directions at the start.
Ron the Greek was within three lengths of Alpha through six furlongs in 1:10.78. Approaching the quarter pole, Lezcano shot Ron the Greek inside of Alpha, and turning for home they were in front. The race was over.
“I’m surprised too,” Lezcano said. “Like a different horse. I never asked him for nothing. He broke good, he put himself there, and when I asked him responded. He went to the lead and never stopped. He always would put the brakes on a little bit. Today, he took off and never stopped.”
Ron the Greek covered the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.70, the fastest time for the Gold Cup since Evening Attire ran 1:59.58 in 2002. Sent off at 21-1, Ron the Greek returned $44 to win. Check it out:
“This is the Ron the Greek today,” Mott said. “This is the same type of race he ran in the Sunshine Millions, the same kind of race he ran in California when he won the Santa Anita Handicap, and every once in a while he’ll throw in one of these. I can’t determine when, but he did it today. It looked like if he had shaken the reins at him he would have been on the lead.”
Mott said both Ron the Greek and Flat Out would go on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Flat Out finished third in the Classic last year.
Owner Cot Campbell said Palace Malice would also go to the Classic.
The connections of Kentucky Derby winner Orb will have some soul-searching to do after his last-place performance. Jockey Javier Castellano, riding Orb for the first time, said his horse was empty.
“Past the five-eighths pole he didn’t want to be any part of the race,” Castellano said. “He was just flat.”