The Brock Talk

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Quick Start to another HOY Campaign

Veterinary science definitively tells us that horses are unable to read, despite what many think how Mr. Ed, the talking horse on the 1950s television program by the same name, was able to stay on script. Even if they could read, it is doubtful Florida-bred star Ron the Greek knew he was not being considered as a candidate for Horse of the Year in 2012, or even that he is capable of comprehending the concept of an award.

But on Jan. 19, in the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, he ran like he knew his connections had not been invited as finalists to the awards gala, also held at the Hallandale Beach track just hours after race. In other words, Ron the Greek seemed to be running with a vengeance. And if such a thing existed, it may not have been a vengeance against the Eclipse Award voters who snubbed the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) and Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) winner and Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and Whitney Handicap (G1) runner-up by not even giving him a second or third-place vote.

It may have been a reprisal against fellow Sunshine Millions Classic defending champion Mucho Macho Man, who had defeated runner-up Ron the Greek by a length and-a-half last year in this race.

Whatever the catalyst for the performance, Ron the Greek put in quite an effort to start his 2013 campaign and another possible run at Horse of the Year.

To those who saw the race in person, on television or on the internet, it was quite the spectacle.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott knew early in the race something was different with Ron the Greek, a son of the Hartley/DeRenzo stallion Full Mandate and the Fortunate Prospect mare Flambe’. At the half-mile pole of Ron the Greek’s three previous races, he was 12, 11 and nine and one-half lengths off of the early pace. But in the Sunshine Millions, he was much closer.

“We had asked [jockey] Jose [Lezcano] if he could, to stay a little closer. But I didn’t expect him to be that close,” Mott said of pace scenario that had longshot I’m Steppin’ It Up and wagering third-choice Fort Loudon running in a relatively quick :23.19 for the first quarter-mile and :46.59 for the first four furlongs while Ron the Greek was just four and-a-half lengths behind. “I thought… …the closest he’d be was 12 lengths.” But any concern Mott may have had, ended with three-eighths of a mile to go when Lezcano gave Ron the Greek the go-ahead to make his move.

By the time Ron the Greek hit the top of the stretch, he was seven lengths in front and still pulling away. Bred by Jack T. Hammer of Ocala, Ron the Greek eventually hit the wire more than 11 lengths in front of Cash Rules in second and Fort Loudon in third in a running time of 1:49.19.

While the time over the sloppy track may not have turned many heads, the 115 Beyer Speed Figure remains the best in North America on a main track at a mile or further this year through Feb. 1. And it was certainly good enough for Mott and owners Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and Mr. Hammer to consider shipping again to Santa Anita in Southern California to defend their title in the Mar. 2, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap.

There Ron the Greek is expected to meet Game on Dude, another older horse with Horse of the Year aspirations after winning the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 2 at Santa Anita.

Yes, I admit it is a bit early to start campaigning for Ron the Greek to be Horse of the Year. There are still more than 10 months to go and as the late Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham said, “Thoroughbreds are like strawberries. They can go bad overnight.”

But if Ron the Greek stays as ripe as he was in the Sunshine Millions, it will be difficult on his adversaries in future contests. And maybe Ron the Greek will get those necessary nods from the voters for the golden trophy given to the Horse of the Year next January.