Updated on 06/19/2012 10:15AM

Churchill Downs: Ron the Greek edges Wise Dan by a head in Foster

Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
Ron the Greek (inside) narrowly defeats Wise Dan in the Foster Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Ron the Greek gave Bill Mott a night to remember under the lit Twin Spires of Churchill Downs when the horse charged up the rail to nail heavily favored Wise Dan in the final strides Saturday night in the 31st running of the Grade 1, $437,200 Stephen Foster Handicap.

Mott, the Hall of Fame trainer who made Churchill his base for years before branching out, also won the previous race, the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap, with the highly impressive Royal Delta on the stakes-studded Downs After Dark program.

Ron the Greek, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, was ridden by Jose Lezcano when coming from seventh in a field of eight older horses to prevail by a head in a thrilling finish of the 1 1/8-mile race over Wise Dan, the 4-5  favorite. Until the final furlong, however, it appeared that front-running Nates Mineshaft had stolen the race, but as he began to falter late, Wise Dan went past him with about 40 yards to go, and then Ron the Greek slipped past them both with his inside run.

Ron the Greek returned $20.80 after finishing in 1:50.51 over a fast track. The 5-year-old Ron the Greek  won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March before finishing second as the favorite in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in his last start.

Nates Mineshaft was three-quarters of a length behind the top pair, while Rogue Romance rallied belatedly to finish fourth, another 1 1/4 lengths back.

“There happened to be a little pace in here today, more than there was at Oaklawn,” said Mott, who was in from New York. “It was a little more honest, and that helped his situation.”

Before an estimated ontrack crowd of 25,000, Nates Mineshaft, a 14-1 shot with Miguel Mena aboard, set a solo pace through fractions of 23.66 seconds, 47.27, and 1:10.95 with Fort Larned and Wise Dan in closest pursuit. Nearing the quarter pole, Fort Larned was first to give way while Wise Dan, with John Velazquez putting him to a fierce drive, finally began getting closer inside the furlong pole.

Meanwhile, Lezcano had found an inside seam on Ron the Greek, and they just kept coming, giving the horse his seventh victory from 19 career starts.

“Jose did a great job,” said Mott. “He got him settled real nice, found a seam, got him through, and really rode him well. We’re real happy.”

A Florida-bred by Full Mandate, Ron the Greek is owned by Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable, and his breeder, Jack T. Hammer. He earned $262,932 to lift his bankroll to $1,112,597.

The Foster was the first of six Win and You’re In  events toward the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, with $150,000 in entry fees and a $10,000 travel voucher going to the winner. Mott said the 1 1/4-mile distance of the $5 million BC Classic should be “made to order” for the late-running Ron the Greek.

An objection by Manny Cruz, the rider of Rogue Romance, for alleged interference by Wise Dan in deep stretch was not allowed.

As expected, Successful Dan, part of a stable entry with Wise Dan, was an early scratch and will run next in the Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows or Suburban at Belmont.

This was the first Foster run as part of a Downs After Dark card. One more such program will be run here June 30.