09/29/2013 10:17AM

Belmont Park: Gold Cup's top three eye Breeders' Cup Classic

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Tom Keyser
Ron the Greek, ridden by Jose Lezcano, wins the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Saturday.

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ELMONT, N.Y. – Led by authoritative winner Ron the Greek, the top three finishers from Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park are expected to head west for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, their connections said Sunday.

Ron the Greek, who finished fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, also at Santa Anita, had gone winless in five consecutive starts prior to Saturday’s Gold Cup.

Racing much closer to the pace than usual early on, Ron the Greek shot through an opening along the rail at the quarter pole under Jose Lezcano and dominated through the stretch, winning by 6 3/4 lengths. He ran 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.70 and earned a 114 Beyer Speed Figure, one point below his career-best achieved in winning the Sunshine Millions Classic in January at Gulfstream.

The victory improved Ron the Greek’s record to 9 for 29 and was his third Grade 1 triumph, one of them achieved in last year’s Santa Anita Handicap. He has not won consecutive starts since late 2011, when he won an overnight stakes over Aqueduct’s main track and the Queens County over Aqueduct’s inner track.

“About every third or fourth race, he fires one of those things and runs good in between – he runs good enough to get seconds, thirds, or fourths,” trainer Bill Mott said Sunday. “When he runs one of those, you see a couple of races that aren’t quite as good.”

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Mott also trains third-place finisher Flat Out, who also will head to the Classic, a race in which he finished third last year. Flat Out, the two-time defending Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, raced evenly throughout Saturday’s race, perhaps regressing off a huge effort in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 31, when he was beaten a head by Alpha.

“I think he ran very hard,” Mott said. “He might not have run his ‘A’ race yesterday. It was a credible race, nothing to be ashamed of.”

Ron the Greek and Flat Out will do the bulk of their training in New York leading up to the Breeders’ Cup. Ron the Greek will stay at Belmont, while Flat Out vanned back to Saratoga on Sunday.

Palace Malice, the Belmont Stakes winner, stalked Alpha early on from the outside but was no match for Ron the Greek in the final quarter-mile. He finished second by 1 3/4 lengths over Flat Out.

“I thought he ran well, second-best on the day,” trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday.

Pletcher said Palace Malice, Cross Traffic, who finished seventh in the Jockey Club, and Graydar, who won the one-mile Kelso Invitational on Saturday, all will be considered for the Classic, but that he was not prepared to make decisions on any of them Sunday morning.

Cross Traffic had no chance in the Gold Cup after he broke awkwardly, his front legs going in different directions when the gates opened, leaving the speedy, gray colt last. Pletcher said Cross Traffic, who earned a fees-paid berth into the Classic by winning the Whitney at Saratoga in August, still is likely headed to California.

“He’s still the Whitney winner – why wouldn’t I consider it?” Pletcher said. “You could argue he got more out of it than any race he’s ever run in.”

Pletcher said Graydar, who returned from a six-month layoff to win the Grade 2 Kelso, will be considered for both the Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Graydar, who earned a 103 Beyer for his Kelso victory, did win the Grade 1 Donn Handicap and Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap – both at 1 1/8 miles – earlier in the year.

“He ran great, came back good; lot of things to assess,” Pletcher said. “We’ll probably pre-enter in more than one spot.”