02/27/2013 4:09PM

Santa Anita Handicap: Ron the Greek figures to get different setup this year

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Barbara D. Livingston
Ron the Greek wins the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream by 11 1/4 lengths.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Ron the Greek had an ideal trip when he won the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap last March, stalking a furious pace and roaring home to win the most prestigious race of his career by a convincing 3 1/2 lengths.

That kind of trip may be impossible to duplicate when Ron the Greek starts in Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap.

“This year will be different,” said Rodolphe Brisset, an assistant trainer for Bill Mott.

Saturday’s race has 10 entries; last year there were 13. Saturday’s race lacks the necessary front-runners to contribute to a hot pace. In 2012, a speed duel developed, leading to quick early fractions of 44.55 seconds for a half-mile and 1:09.08 for six furlongs.

Brisset thinks that Ron the Greek can adapt to any pace scenario. A 6-year-old horse, Ron the Greek chased a moderate pace of 47.27 and 1:10.95 when he won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs last June ,and fractions of 46.59 and 1:11.03 when he won the Sunshine Millions Classic by 11 1/4 lengths over 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 19.

Game On Dude, who won the 2011 Big Cap, is expected to have the early lead Saturday.

[BIG CAP: Get PPs, watch Saturday's Santa Anita card live]

“The good thing is that in the Sunshine Millions he wasn’t that far off the pace,” Brisset said of Ron the Greek. “If Game On Dude is on the lead in 48, we can be closer, and if he’s on the lead in 46, we’ll be farther back.”

Ron the Greek was fifth of seven in the first half of the Sunshine Millions Classic, racing a little more than four lengths off the pace.

If Ron the Greek or Game On Dude wins Saturday, he will be the fourth horse to win two runnings of the Big Cap, joining John Henry, Milwaukee Brew, and Lava Man.

Jose Lezcano will ride Ron the Greek, who starts from the rail. Game On Dude, who carries top weight of 125 pounds, will be favored and starts from post 9. Ron the Greek carries 122 pounds in the race over 1 1/4 miles.

The other starters include seven stakes winners in the last year – Called to Serve, Deacon Speakin’, Guilt Trip, Handsome Mike, John Scott, Richard’s Kid, and Stephanoatee. Also in the field is Clubhouse Ride, who was second to Game On Dude in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes over 1 1/8 miles Feb. 3.

Deacon Speakin’, a 7-year-old gelding who has won the last two runnings of the Portland Meadows Mile, will make his graded stakes debut in the Big Cap, his 57th start.