All thoroughbreds mature at different rates. Owners and trainers know there is no perfect world for their chargers. A perfect world would find their two-year-old colt winning the season-ending Bredders’ Cup Juvenile . . . keep on improving by using his first year’s experience and weight-gain to make some history in the Triple Crown series . . . and then successfully moving on as a handicap champion through ages four and five.
[cleeng_content id="334097770" description="Read it now!" price="0.15"]None of the recent Juvenile champions has gone on to win the next year’s Kentucky Derby. The “perfect world” hasn’t existed.
The two-year-old phenoms have done little in later years. The individuals doing big things in the Triple Crown series have either been retired or haven’t found good fortune when they were older.
Of late, there have been meteoric rises from thoroughbreds that did very little at an earlier age but caught lightning in a bottle when they were either four or five.
One of those late bloomers in 2012 has been five-year-old Ron the Greek.
At age two, Ron the Greek raced only three times for owner Jack Hammer and then-trainer Tom Amoss. Even though he won two nondescript races and only $44,400 there was no sign he could be a solid Triple Crown contender.
At age three, Ron the Greek had only three more races. His one win brought the majority of the $63,000 in earnings he managed.
In 2011, at age four, he raced nine times in scattered tries that included allowance/optional events to achieving wins in both the Sunny and Mild Stakes and the Queens County Stakes.
In his first seven races last year at age four, Ron the Greek couldn’t win. He was 0-for-7 after stumbling through defeats in four allowance/optional losses and no finish better than third and fourth in the Donn Handicap, Skip Away Stakes, and Three Coins Up Stakes.
But in November and December of last year he pulled off wins in the Sunny and Mild and the Queens County.
Hall of Famer Bill Mott is now the trainer of the suddenly-being-notcied five-year-old.
Mott, as much as maturation, experience, and latent talent, has been a major player in Ron the Greek’s emergence as a handicap force.
In late January of this year, trainer Mott had Ron the Greek entered in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes. While the budding two-race win streak was ended, the second-place finish was not a disappointment at all.
Five weeks later, Mott had his still-underappreciated bay colt out in California to try the much-watched Santa Anita Handicap, a Grade I event.
A large field filled the Santa Anita starting gate. There were no former Horse of the Year types in the race and Ron the Greek was sent off with 7-2 odds.
Jockey Jose Lezcano fell back in the pack and was more than 12 lengths behind when he began a forward move midway on the backstretch.
When within five lengths of the pacesetter, Lezcano eased off on the accelerator. But he called on Ron the Greek as the now-bunched field wound through the final curve.
At the head of the stretch, Lezcano and Ron the Greek moved boldly to the lead . . . and in the next 70 yards had a nifty lead of about four lengths.
The twosome crossed the finish line clear of any of the others.
It was another five weeks before there would be another race, and it would be at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas in the Oaklawn Handicap. Ron the Greek was second in that one.
Just 18 days ago at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Mott and company were ready for the Stephen Foster Handicap, another Grade I event.
Ron the Greek was made a 10-1 longshot against an accomplished field that had Nate’s Mindshaft, favored Wise Dan, Mission Impazible, Alternation, and Nehro.
As the race unwound, finding Ron the Greek took a concentrated look a long way from where the leaders were kicking back dirt at the chasers.
He had only one horse behind him with three-eighths of a mile left to run. It was about 10 lengths between him and the leader, Nate’s Mineshaft.
Jockey Lezcano kept to the rail. But Nate’s Mineshaft didn’t fall apart and Wise Dan was still full of energy. A short distance from the finish, Wise Dan slid by Nate’s Mineshaft . . . and then about 25 yards before the wire Ron the Greek nosed in front of the fast-closing Wise Dan.
Five years old.
And just reaching what could be the pinnacle of his career.
Winning the Stephen Foster already qualifies Ron the Greek for the late fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic out in California at Santa Anita.
Said Mott: “We felt pretty good after he won the Santa Anita Handicap, but its good to see him come back and run two good races since that one. He seems to be an improving horse and you’d have to say he’s one of the top handicap horses in the country.
“We’ll probably give him a break now and point for the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He might have a race before the Gold Cup, but I’m not sure where it would be.”
Ron the Greek has a family tree that starts with sire Full Mandate and his mother, Flambe’. His grand sires are A.P. Indy and Fortunate Prospect. It’s back to great granddaddies Seattle Slew, Deputy Minister, Northern Prospect, and Dixieland Band.
And even before those great grand sires were Secretariat, Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, Bold Reasoning, and Lucky Debonair.
It seems that having Secretariat, Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, and Seattle Slew back in your family tree helps to bring out ability even in a late-bloomer.[/cleeng_content]