Updated on 08/04/2012 8:39AM

Saratoga: Ron the Greek going for third Grade 1 of the year in Whitney Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Ron the Greek has found new life under the care of trainer Bill Mott.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Ron the Greek was not the horse who gave trainer Bill Mott his obligatory birthday victory in 2011. One year later, however, Ron the Greek is the gift that keeps on giving for the Hall of Fame trainer.

Mott, who took over Ron the Greek’s training 13 months ago – 12 races into his career – has appeared to figure out whatever makes Ron the Greek tick. On Saturday, the horse will go for his third Grade 1 victory of the year when he faces eight rivals in the $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap at Saratoga.

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Mott has never won the Whitney and hasn’t had a starter in the race since Peaks and Valleys finished third in 1996.

Ron the Greek drew post 6 and was installed as the 3-1 morning-line choice by Eric Donovan, the New York Racing Association’s line-maker. The Whitney, run at 1 1/8 miles, is a Win and You’re In race, meaning the winner earns an automatic berth into the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita with their entry fees paid and a $10,000 travel stipend.

Ron the Greek already earned an automatic berth into this year’s Classic by virtue of his head victory over Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill on June 16. Following that race, Mott was thinking of giving Ron the Greek a break and concentrating on a fall campaign that would ultimately end up in the Classic. But the horse would not hear of it.

“I was feeling maybe this horse needs a break at some point,” Mott said. “But he was doing so well and it was a fair amount of time, I said ‘let’s go ahead and go for it.’ ”

Ron the Greek wasn’t always doing so well. After winning three of his first four starts to begin his career, he lost nine straight. He was transferred from Tom Amoss to Tom Albertrani to Peter Walder and then to Mott. The latter transfer took place after Adam Wachtel and his business partner Nils Brous purchased an interest in the horse from Jack Hammer, the colt’s breeder and original owner.

On July 29, 2011 – Mott’s 58th birthday – Ron the Greek finished second in a third-level allowance race at Saratoga. It was his first start for Mott. The horse did not run again until Nov. 17 when he won an overnight stakes at Aqueduct by five lengths. He has finished first or second in five subsequent starts.

“After running him, we learned a bit more about him,” Mott said. “There were a few little bugs to work out.”

Following that overnight stakes win and a victory in the Queens County over Aqueduct’s inner track in December, Ron the Greek finished second to Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream.

In his next start, Ron the Greek took advantage of a suicidal early pace to win the Santa Anita Handicap.

“It was particularly gratifying knowing it was 10 furlongs and it’s the track where they run the Breeders’ Cup,” Mott said.

Mott felt Ron the Greek was compromised by a slow pace when he finished second in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. In the Stephen Foster, on June 16 at Churchill, Ron the Greek rallied from 9 1/2 lengths back under Jose Lezcano to beat Wise Dan by a head.

“At the three-eighths pole, it looked like we were hoping to be third,” Mott said. “Then the rider made a big move along the inside and saved the ground and at the eighth pole it looked like maybe we could be third; then all of sudden, boom, he just kept coming.”

With speed horses Endorsement and Trickmeister drawn directly inside of Ron the Greek, there should be plenty of pace to help set things up for Ron the Greek, or Mott’s other entrant, Flat Out.

Flat Out finished second in this race a year ago when trained by Scooter Dickey. Last month, he finished second in the Monmouth Cup, his first start for Mott.

“I loved his race down at Monmouth,” Mott said. “He had traffic and at a flat mile he didn’t have time to overcome it.”

Flat Out, who drew post 7, will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the 2007 Whitney with Lawyer Ron, sends out the uncoupled entry of Rule, who beat Flat Out in the Monmouth Cup, and Caixa Eletronica.

Rule drew the rail while Caixa Eletronica will break from post 3.

Fort Larned, winner of the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap on June 30, is the 7-2 second choice. He will break from post 9 under Brian Hernandez.

Rounding out the field are Hymn Book, Endorsement, Trickmeister, and Hunters Bay.