09/25/2012 4:29PM

Jockey Club Gold Cup: Ron the Greek seeks to join elite pair

Barbara D. Livingston
Ron the Greek, with exercise rider Rodolphe Brisset up, will be targeting his third Grade 1 of 2012 in Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup.

ELMONT, N.Y. – When Adam Wachtel and Nils Brous first met seven years ago, they were trying to buy a clothing company. While that deal didn’t materialize, the two have become a pretty good fit in the world of Thoroughbred racing.

Wachtel, 50, has had a lifelong involvement in racing, having been introduced to it by his father, Edward, a longtime breeder and owner in New York. Brous, 48, has long been a fan of the game and expected to one day get involved in ownership.

Wachtel and Brous are two-thirds owners of arguably the leading older male horse in training, Ron the Greek, who will try to pad his résumé in Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

A victory in the Gold Cup would be Ron the Greek’s third Grade 1 success of the year and put him atop the older male division heading into the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 3.

It also would enable Ron the Greek to join Affirmed (1979) and John Henry (1981) as the only horses to win both the Santa Anita Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup in the same year.

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Noting that the British bookmaker William Hill had recently made Ron the Greek the 8-1 co-second choice along with Fort Larned – behind Game On Dude (7-1) – for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Wachtel said, “I think he’s earned that . . . He’s very tenacious. He’s a horse that shows up every time, and hopefully he will again on Saturday.”

Wachtel has been looking for a horse as good as Ron the Greek since he started reading and interpreting speed figures three decades ago. His father was a prominent New York owner/breeder, perhaps best known for campaigning the New York-bred champion Claramount who became one of the state’s top stallions.

Wachtel used speed figures to buy horses privately that were recommended to him and his father.

Among Adam’s first purchases for his dad was the New York-bred Bit of Puddin, who in his second start for Wachtel Stable ran second to Irgun in the Grade 2 Gotham in 1994. Wachtel also picked out Smokin Mel, who won the 1997 Gotham. Other stakes horses Wachtel picked out included Dashboard Drummer, Thetactics of Dance, Minge Cove, and Sing Me Back Home.

In 2005, Wachtel used the sheets to pursue Attila’s Storm, who had been based in California with Ron McAnally.

Around the time he was trying to buy that horse, Wachtel was introduced to Nils Brous. The two private-equity investors were trying to by a clothing company from Joe Sweedler, who also was involved in racing and a partner on some of Wachtel’s horses. The deal for the company ultimately did not go through.

However, the deal to buy Attila’s Storm did get done, and that horse ultimately won two stakes, was Grade 1 stakes-placed, and ended up fourth in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and fifth in the 2006 Sprint. Attila’s Storm was the first horse Brous had become partners on with Wachtel. The two have also campaigned stakes winners Desert Wheat and Yates Black Cat.

“Everything I’ve done in the horse business has been with Adam,” Brous said. “Adam’s been a fantastic partner. He’s got a great operation, perfect for me. I only have a certain amount of time for it, so it was perfect to hook up with someone A, who is so good at it, and B, has got the wherewithal and the whole operation.”

Wachtel and Brous are now partners on 20 horses, including a couple of stallions. Aside from Ron the Greek, they own the multiple graded stakes winner Al Khali, who just got beat a neck in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer at Woodbine on Sept. 16 and who is headed to the $1.5 million Canadian International on Oct. 14 at Woodbine and potentially the Breeders’ Cup Turf. They also own All Squared Away, who is pointing to the Hawthorne Derby, and recently purchased the Irish-bred and based Amira’s Prince, who will run in the Grade 1 Jamaica at Belmont on Oct. 6.

Ron the Greek has been a horse that Wachtel really liked after he won the Lecomte as a 3-year-old in 2010, but was rebuffed by Jack Hammer, who owned and bred the horse.

Frustrated after Ron the Greek lost six straight races to begin his 4-year-old season, Hammer contacted Wachtel who remained interested in the horse. All three parties own a third of Ron the Greek.

Fourteen months ago, Ron the Greek was sent to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who ran him in a second-level allowance at Saratoga on July 29, 2011, where he finished second. Although Mott liked the race, he thought there was more there.

“He was just a little weak in behind,” Wachtel said. “He said, ‘He ran great, but I think we can get him better. Are you in a rush?’ I said ‘You get him where he’s 110 percent.’ He said ‘Good, I want to do a little work on him, I think there are some things I can improve on.’ Truth is, it made all the difference doing that and taking our time.”

Since returning to the races last November, Ron the Greek has won four stakes – including the Queens County at Aqueduct and the Santa Anita and Stephen Foster handicaps – and finished second in four others, including the Oaklawn and Whitney handicaps.

In Saturday’s Gold Cup, Ron the Greek will have a chance to avenge his loss to Fort Larned, who beat him by 1 1/4 lengths in the Whitney.

“Fort Larned beat us last time, he got a dream trip and we got a wide trip,” Wachtel said. “I think he’s very talented and I’m certainly worried about him.”

Wachtel and Brous are hoping that Ron the Greek can win the Gold Cup and/or the Breeders’ Cup Classic and earn an Eclipse Award as champion older male and perhaps Horse of the Year.

“I don’t even think we have to knock them both off, of course we’d want to,” Wachtel said. “The truth is we’re the only multiple Grade 1 winner at this point, we won two of the most prestigious races the U.S. has, and if we make a good showing these next two races, who's better than us?”