Whitney favorite Ron the Greek growing better with age

awincze@herald-leader.comAugust 1, 2012 

Churchill Downs Horse Racing

Jockey Jose Lezcano cooled off Stephen Foster Handicap winner Ron the Greek with water after the 5-year-old's victory.

GARRY JONES — Garry Jones

  • Saturday

    Whitney Invitational Handicap

    What: $750,000, Grade I race for 3-year-olds and up

    Where: Saratoga Race Track

    When: 5:45 p.m.

    TV: TVG

  • Whitney Handicap field

    PP Horse Jockey Odds

    1 Rule Bravo 5-1

    2 Hunters Bay Wilson 20-1

    3Caixa EletronicaCastellano 15-1

    4 Endorsement Rosario 20-1

    5 Trickmeister Dominguez 15-1

    6 Ron the Greek Lezcano 3-1

    7 Flat Out Napravnik 4-1

    8 Hymn Book Velazquez 4-1

    9 Fort Larned Hernandez 7-2

If there is a common thread in the yarn of multiple Grade I winner Ron the Greek, it's that he eventually backs up his first impression.

When he was born, co-owner and breeder Jack Hammer recalls a friend of his declaring the son of Full Mandate to be "the best foal the mare has ever had."

Though Ron the Greek was in the midst of a nine-race losing skid last season, majority owners Nils Brous and Adam Wachtel bought into the bay runner, having initially fallen for him in the early stages of his 3-year-old campaign.

Let the record show that with more than $1.1 million in career earnings, Ron the Greek has indeed become the best offspring out of his dam Flambe. And ever since Brous and Wachtel threw their money and faith behind him, Ron the Greek has become a more impressive version of himself than any of his prior incarnations.

Just more than a year after making his first start under the care of Bill Mott at Saratoga, Ron the Greek will try and give the Hall of Fame trainer his first victory in the Spa's Grade I Whitney Invitational Handicap. The 5-year-old horse, who has undergone as massive career resurgence this season, was made the 3-1 morning-line favorite from post six in a field of nine for Saturday's 11⁄8-mile test.

Fort Larned, winner of the Grade III Cornhusker Handicap on June 30, is the 7-2 second choice out of post nine.

Thought to be a Kentucky Derby contender after winning the 2010 Grade III LeComte Stakes for previous trainer Tom Amoss, Ron the Greek switched barns a couple of times and appeared to lose his form along the way. After losing nine straight following that LeComte score, Ron the Greek won the Sunny and Mild Stakes in his second start for Mott last November and has since become one of the more surprising leaders of this year's handicap division, taking the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in June.

"I think (Ron the Greek is) a real late-developing horse," said Mott, who will also saddle Grade I winner Flat Out in the Whitney. "I probably just got lucky and got him at the right time.

"I don't think anyone really expected him to do what he's done. I think the thoughts were that he would improve and be running in good company, but I don't think they thought he'd be running in the Whitney."

Following his first start for Mott last July 29, Ron the Greek didn't run again until the Sunny and Mild — and hasn't finished worse than second in five starts since.

To that end, Hammer credited Mott with giving Ron the Greek the time needed to get himself together physically. The only problem for Ron the Greek is that Mott's renowned handling could have stablemate Flat Out primed for a career kick-start of his own.

Flat Out won the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup last year for trainer Scooter Dickey but was transferred to Mott after his fifth-place finish in the Grade I Donn Handicap in February.

The 6-year-old Flatter horse was subsequently given a break until returning to run second to fellow Whitney entrant Rule in the Grade II Monmouth Cup Stakes on July 7.

"I thought his first race for us at Monmouth ... showed us he was willing to run," Mott said of Flat Out. "Believe me, I never look forward to running against myself. But both horses are training well and deserve to run in the race."

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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