Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has won Breeders' Cup Classics, the Dubai World Cup and many other Grade 1 events for older horses, but one race that's eluded him until Saturday was the Santa Anita Handicap, better known as the Big Cap. Ron the Greek, a Florida-bred son of Full Mandate who has not won a Graded Stakes since the winter of 2010 when he captured the Grade 3 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds, gave Mott his first Big Cap when after Jose Lezcano guided him from far off the pace to beat Setsuko by 3 1/2 lengths in the mile and one-quarter fixture.
Uh Oh Bango finished third, with Holladay Road fourth in the field of 13 older horses, led by 2-1 favorite Ultimte Eagle.
Ron the Greek, bred in Florida by Jack Hammer, races in partnership for Hammer, Brous Stable and Wachtel Stable. He carried 116 pounds in the Big Cap, four fewer than the high weight, Ultimate Eagle. Ron the Greek was coming off a a second-place finish in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Mucho Macho Man.
The pace in the Big Cap were torrid: :22.26, :44.55 and 1:09.08 for the opening six furlongs. Gladding and Ultimate Eagle carved out those fractions as Ron the Greek galloped near the back of the field. Setsuko made a three-wide move into the stretch, the mile in 1:34.14, but Ron the Greek was moving best down the lane, taking command from Setsuko at the furlong pole, and completing the distance on a fast track in 2:00.41.
Ron the Greek paid $9.20 for the win.
Ron the Greek was trained earlier in his career by Tom Amoss and Peter Walder, but he's won 3-of-5 since going to Mott.
Quotes, courtesy Santa Anita Publicity Department
JOSE LEZCANO, RON THE GREEK, WINNER: “I didn't want to be on the inside so I had to use him the whole way to make him keep going. At the half-mile pole I had a lot of horse, but I had to keep asking my horse. My horse is like a bicycle, you keep asking and he will keep running. The last three races he has been improving. His last race in Florida he was racing a shorter distance and the other horse opened up early and I couldn't catch him. He was really coming the last three-sixteenths, but the other horse opened up too early”
VICTOR ESPINOZA, SETSUKO, SECOND: “There was the three horse, he was inside of me and I wanted to just beat him and jump first on him. He ran an awesome race. He's coming back with the second race after such a long layoff. He will be better next time. He set up very nice for me. I had a very nice clean trip which always helps in the big races. That's all you can do.”
MARTIN PEDROZA, ULTIMATE EAGLE, 2-1 FAVORITE, 10TH: “We're very, very disappointed–I wanted to cry. They came like a rabbit. The race is not a quarter of a mile. We're not at Los Alamitos. We're running a mile and a quarter. They're trying to hurt me–for what? I can understand if you're going to win, but if you're not even going to hit the board . . . ”
RODOLPHE BRISSET, ASSISTANT TO BILL MOTT, RON THE GREEK, WINNER: “There was a lot of speed in the race . . . We just wanted to stalk the pace and see what happens. We were not expected 44 (44.55 for a half mile) on the lead. That's sprinting. He (Lezcano) did very good to make a move on the backside and give him a little break on the turn and he just came running again, so it was a very good race.”
Brisset, 28, has been with Mott five years. The horse arrived in California Wednesday night and is due to return East on Tuesday.
“This is my first time at Santa Anita,” Brisset said. “I came six months ago to Hollywood Park and we won the Shoemaker with Courageous Cat, so that's two trips to California and we won two Grade I's, so I like to come here.”
RICHARD MANDELLA, SETSUKO, SECOND: “He ran a good race. There wasn't much question. The winner was just too good.”
MIKE PENDER, ULTIMATE EAGLE, FAVORITE: “They were hell-bent on getting the lead–Rosario and Sadler's horse–and when you go 44 and change going a mile and a quarter . . . like we said, anybody who tries to chase us is going to pay the price, and Gladding was hitting the reverse button at the three-eighths pole. We kept on going–credit to our horse. You can't go a mile and a quarter in 44 and change. It's literally impossible–unless you're Secretariat.”
NOTES: The winning owners are Nils Brous of New York City, Jack Hammer (who also bred the horse) of Miami Beach, and Adam Wachtel of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.
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