Updated on 03/06/2012 11:38AM

Santa Anita Handicap: Mott shipper Ron the Greek mows 'em down

Benoit & Associates
Ron the Greek, shipping in from the East Coast, relished the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Santa Anita Handicap.

ARCADIA, Calif.- Ron the Greek left jockey Jose Lezcano eager for the future after a runner-up finish in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28.

In that race over 1 1/8 miles, Ron the Greek closed well in the final furlong to finish 1 1/2 lengths behind Mucho Macho Man.

“It was a shorter distance and we couldn’t catch them,” Lezcano said.

The distance issue was solved when Ron the Greek started over 1 1/4 miles for the first time in Saturday’s $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap.

Closing from 10th in a field of 13, Ron the Greek caught Setsuko in the final furlong to win the most prestigious race of his career in his 17th start.

The victory was worth $450,000 to partners Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable, and Jack Hammer and trainer Bill Mott, who did not attend the race. Ron the Greek was the lone shipper from outside of California in the field.

Sunday's card will feature a meet-high pick-six carryover of $430,582 as the bet went unhit both Friday and Saturday.

Lezcano, winning the Big Cap for the first time, said his confidence soared in the 5-year-old Ron the Greek through the last half of the race.

“At the half-mile pole, I had a lot of horse and I had to keep riding my horse,” Lezcano said.

Ron the Greek was sixth with a quarter-mile remaining, trailing pacesetter Ultimate Eagle by four lengths. With a wide move, Ron the Greek took the lead with a furlong remaining and pulled clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Carrying 116 pounds, four less than topweight Ultimate Eagle, Ron the Greek ($9.20) was timed in 2:00.41. He was the third choice in the field of 13.

Setsuko, second in the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap, held second in Saturday’s race, finishing a half-length in front of 14-1 Uh Oh Bango.

Holladay Road finished fourth, followed by Norvsky, Boxeur des Rues, Twice the Appeal, Thirtyfirststreet, Fiddlers Afleet, Ultimate Eagle, Gladding, Prayer for Relief, and Victory Pete.

Setsuko, as far back as fifth for the first six furlongs, was alongside Ultimate Eagle in early stretch, but could not keep pace with Ron the Greek.

Jockey Victor Espinoza said he respected Ron the Greek’s chances and “wanted to get the first jump” on that rival.

“That horse blew me away,” Espinoza said. “It set up for me. I had a clean trip and that helps in a big field.”

Uh Oh Bango was last after six furlongs and was beaten four lengths in his first career start over 1 1/4 miles.

“He made a great move but we couldn’t grind it out for second,” jockey Mike Smith said.

Ultimate Eagle, the 2-1 favorite, was part of a fast pace duel with Gladding through early fractions of 22.26 and 44.55 seconds. He led into early stretch but faded through the final furlong.

Ultimate Eagle was racing on the inside turning into the stretch when apprentice jockey Eswan Flores tried to guide Thirtyfirstreet between Ultimate Eagle and the rail. Thirtyfirststreet did not have sufficient room, and struck the rail. After the race, Flores, 18, was near tears and declined to comment.

Ron the Greek started in his second Grade 1 race in the Big Cap, having finished sixth in the 2011 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. At 3 in 2010, he won the Grade 3 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds, but was off the Kentucky Derby trail following sixth-place finishes in the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby.

Bred in Florida by Hammer, Ron the Greek is by Full Mandate, and has won 6 of 17 starts and $769,665.