01/19/2013 6:41PM

Gulfstream Park: Ron the Greek cruises to victory in Sunshine Millions Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Ron the Greek pulls away to an 11 1/4-length romp in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – What was billed as a two-horse race turned into a one-sided victory for Ron the Greek, who cruised to a decisive 11 1/4-length triumph over Cash Rules in Saturday’s $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic. Mucho Macho Man, the defending champ and 1-5 favorite in the Classic, stopped abruptly after racing forwardly for six furlongs and was ultimately eased to the wire by jockey Mike Smith.

Ron the Greek, who finished second behind Mucho Macho Man in the 2012 edition of the Sunshine Millions Classic, had not started since finishing a distant fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But he returned fit and ready for a peak performance Saturday.

Racing closer to the pace than even trainer Bill Mott expected, Ron the Greek launched his bid just inside Cash Rules on the second turn, readily pulled away from that rival leaving the quarter pole, and then steadily extended his advantage under jockey Jose Lezcano. Cash Rules was easily second best, finishing two lengths clear of the tiring Fort Loudon.

Mucho Macho Man was carried wide into the opening bend by I’m Steppin Out, prompted a fast pace while remaining well out in the track, and had nothing left midway around the second turn. He was taken in hand by Smith who safely eased him to the wire.

“He was going along fine and then he kept putting his head higher and higher,” Smith said after the race.

Smith said he eased Mucho Macho Man because he stopped trying and he sensed something was wrong. After the race, Smith told trainer Kathy Ritvo “I guarantee it’s something inside.”

Mucho Macho Man appeared to be fine walking off from the track.

Ron the Greek, a 5-year-old son of Full Mandate, is owned by the partnership of the Brous Stable, the Wachtel Stable, and Jack Hammer. He was the only horse to defeat Wise Dan in 2012, beating him by a head in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster.

Ron the Greek ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.19 and returned $8.40.

“He’s run well on a wet track before, however he didn’t run well on a sticky track in the Jockey Club, it was kind of strange,” Mott said. “But he ran well today, he liked this [track], he didn’t mind it. He was a little closer than he normally is, I didn’t expect him to be that close. I thought he might ride him away a little bit and the closest he’d be is 12 lengths. It looked like he was into the bridle and running well, he put him in a drive around the turn, he shook loose, and the rest is history.”

Mott said he’d likely keep Ron the Greek on a similar schedule as last year and send him back to California to defend his title in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap later this winter.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman