Florida-bred runner ships from his base at Payson Park
to win the richest race of his career in California.
Florida-bred Ron the Greek had always flashed plenty of promise. It wasn’t until he joined trainer Bill Mott’s barn last year that the 5-year-old son of Hartley/De Renzo stallion Full Mandate began to truly blossom.
Ron the Greek delivered on that promise in dramatic fashion on Saturday, closing from the clouds to win the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) for owners Nils Brous of New York City, Jack Hammer (who also bred the horse) of Miami Beach, and Adam Wachtel of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.
Ridden by Jose Lezcano, Ron the Greek weaved his way through traffic down the backstretch behind a torrid early pace in the 1 ¼-mile marathon. On the far turn, Lezcano had Ron the Greek poised to pounce as he followed Setsuko who also began a strong run in chasing after race favorite Ultimate Eagle.
When the real running began, this year’s Big ‘Cap boiled down to Setsuko and Ron the Greek as Ultimate Eagle had little to offer in the lane after being a part of 22.26 , 44.55 and 1:09.08 fractions. In a matter of strides, however, Ron the Greek quickly put to rest any notions that Victor Espinoza aboard Setsuko might have entertained about winning the race (the pair finished second in last year’s renewal) and he rambled to the wire to win by 3 ½ lengths, stopping the clock in 2:00.41.
“I didn’t want to be on the inside so I had to use him the whole way to make him keep going,” said Lezcano. “At the half-mile pole I had a lot of horse, but I had to keep asking my horse. My horse is like a bicycle, you keep asking and he will keep running. The last three races he has been improving. His last race in Florida he was racing a shorter distance and the other horse opened up early and I couldn’t catch him. He was really coming the last three-sixteenths, but the other horse opened up too early”
Lezcano referred to Ron the Greek’s second-place finish behind Florida-bred Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in his last start. It appears that race proved a perfect prep for Saturday’s Big ‘Cap.
Ron the Greek is named for the late Ron Skrumbellos, a friend of breeder and co-owner Jack Hammer.
Photo of Ron the Greek courtesy of Santa Anita Park/Benoit photo