Ron the Greek edges Wise Dan in Foster
Ron the Greek scored his second Grade 1 victory of the year on Saturday, charging through the inside to overtake front-running Nates Mineshaft and then nip heavily favored Wise Dan by a head on the wire to win the $400,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Under Jose Lezcano, the son of Full Mandate covered nine furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.51 and paid $20.80 for the upset win. Wise Dan finished second, with Nates Mineshaft third and Rogue Romance fourth. Stewards disallowed an objection from Manuel Cruz aboard Rogue Romance, claiming interference by Wise Dan and jockey John Velazquez in deep stretch.
Trained by Hall of Famer William Mott, who a half-hour earlier saddled champion Royal Delta to a galloping victory in the G2 Fleur De Lis Handicap, Ron the Greek races for Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable, and Jack T. Hammer. Out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Flambe’, Ron the Greek was bred in Florida by Hammer, who named the horse after his good friend, Ron Skrumbellos, who died in August 2009 when Ron the Greek was a 2-year-old.
Nates Mineshaft – who raced for a $25,000 claiming price last December but has scored three front-running Graded stakes victories in 2012 – set the pace under Jesse Campbell, going the opening quarter in :23.66, the half in :47.27, six furlongs in 1:10.95, and a mile in 1:36.33. Wise Dan tracked Nates Mineshaft throughout the Foster while Ron the Greek, after steadying in the early going, raced well off the pace. With three-eighths of a mile to run, Ron the Greek had just one horse beat and was 9 1/2 lengths behind the leader.
Inside the final furlong Nates Mineshaft began to drift out several paths, forcing Wise Dan outside as well. Nates Mineshaft then shifted back to the inside as Wise Dan rallied past him, but Ron the Greek and Lezcano had the most momentum when they hit the wire.
The victory was the seventh in 19 starts for Ron the Greek, who earlier this year won the G1 Santa Anita Handicap by 3 1/2 lengths over Setsuko. That was the first Graded stakes win for Ron the Greek since January 2010 during his 3-year-old season when taking the G2 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds while trained by Tom Amoss.
The field for Foster was deep in talent and also included 2011 Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro; 2011 Stephen Foster runner-up Mission Impazible; and Alternation, a winner of four consecutive stakes in 2012, three of them Graded. Favored Wise Dan was coming off a 10 1/2-length victory at Keeneland in the G3 Ben Ali and before that won the G1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November.
Ron the Greek’s final time was a full second slower than Royal Delta’s easy win in the Fleur De Lis. She covered nine furlongs in 1:49.49, compared with Ron the Greek’s 1:50.51.
Quotes, courtesy Churchill Downs media office
BILL MOTT, trainer of Ron the Greek, winner – “There was a good pace in here. More than there was in the Oaklawn Handicap. Jose (Lezcano) did a great job and was able to find a seam on the rail.”
Feel good he just earned a trip to Breeders’ Cup Classic and he’s already won at Santa Anita? – “Exactly. We felt pretty good after he won the race out there, but it’s good to see him come back and run two good races since the Santa Anita Handicap. He seems like he’s an improving horse and you’d have to say he’s one of the top handicap horses in the country. It was a very good field tonight and I feel proud of our horse that he was able to beat such a good field.”
Breeders’ Cup Classic the goal after winning “Win & You’re In” race? – “Having won at 10 furlongs at Santa Anita, it was certainly on our minds. We started on him pretty early, so we’ll probably give him a break now and point for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) and then the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). He might have a race before the Gold Cup, but I’m not sure where it would be.”
What do you think of Downs After Dark? – “Everyone looks like they’re having a lot of fun and if I didn’t have to get on an airplane, I would go participate with the rest of the crowd.”
JOSE LEZCANO, jockey on Ron the Greek, winner – “My horse broke good and I had a perfect trip. Everything went right for me tonight. The whole way I saw the hole on the rail and I thought I could get through. I asked him and he gave me a great run.
“When we crossed the line, I thought I had won, but I wasn’t sure. This horse has been very good to me. This is my third win on him and two have come in a Grade I.”
CHARLES LOPRESTI, trainer of Wise Dan, runner-up – “Johnny said he was concentrating on putting the other horse (Nates Mineshaft) away. He put the other horse away, but he never saw that horse (Ron the Greek) coming. He thought he had it won and he just never saw the horse coming. That’s taking nothing away from that horse.”
Q: It’s disappointing not to get there, but he’s got a long year ahead of him …
“Believe me, I’m not a bit disappointed. He’s walking around here. He looks like he’s cooling out good and that’s the most important thing.”
Q: Any thoughts on the next step?
“We’ll see how he comes out, and we’ll probably head to Saratoga with him. I think that’s the plan.”
JOHN VELAZQUEZ, jockey on Wise Dan, runner-up – “It was a little rough when he got away from there, but he settled nice and we thought Nates Mineshaft would be out there. He moved well at the three-eighths pole and felt good coming into the stretch. He got to the leader, but he kind of re-broke while the other horse (Ron the Greek) got through on the inside. I thought we had the leader, but he never saw that horse on the inside.”
AUSTIN K. SMITH, trainer of Nates Mineshaft, third – “He ran great, and Miguel rode him perfect. We were where we wanted to be and he just didn’t quite hold on. But this was a Breeders’ Cup-type field and he was coming back on short rest. He ran a really good race.”
MIGUEL MENA, rider on Nates Mineshaft, third – “I was pretty excited when I turned for home. I had a lot of horse. We made the lead and that was kind of what I wanted to do. He seems like his heart gets bigger and turning for home I had a lot of horse, but he just got a little short at the end. He ran a great race.
“I thought I was a winner ‘til the 16th pole, but when he hit the sixteenth pole he started getting a little tired. I kept riding him hard, but he was tired.”
DONNIE K. VON HEMEL, trainer of Alternation, fifth to end a four-race win streak
Q: Any idea what happened with your horse?
“Not really. I’ll have to watch I a few more times and see. But that’s horse racing sometimes. They were better than us today.”