Ron the Greek confirmed his championship credentials with a thrilling victory over Wise Dan in the Grade 1, $437,200 Stephen Foster Handicap, rallying up the inside to edge the favorite by a head on the wire. The five-year-old horse capped a big night for trainer Bill Mott, who also saddled champion Royal Delta to an eight-length score in the Grade 2 Fleur des Lis one race earlier on Saturday's Downs after Dark program.
A convincing 3 1/2-length victor of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap earlier this term, at the site of this year's Breeders' Cup Classic, Ron the Greek entered the 1 1/8-mile Foster off a runner-up effort behind Alternation in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. He turned the tables on that rival, who wound up a disappointing fifth, and Ron the Greek now ranks at or very near the top of the older horse division.
With regular rider Jose Lezcano, the bay son of Full Mandate broke sharply but was squeezed and shuffled back early in a tight pack of runners, rating well off the pace in sixth along the rail as the field entered the first turn. He remained on the fence the rest of the way.
Nates Mineshaft sprinted to the fore from his inside post and led through opening fractions in :23 3/5, :47 1/5 and 1:10 4/5. Wise Dan, who was roughed up when sandwiched between horses shortly after the break, accelerated out of trouble and raced several paths off the rail in third, within two lengths of the pacesetter, as the field made its way down the backstretch. Fort Larned was also up close on the inside, and Ron the Greek was still reserved nearly 10 lengths back after the opening three-quarters of a mile.
After making steady progress through the far turn, Ron the Greek came under a full ride turning for home and started to respond to Lezcano's urgings. Nates Mineshaft passed the mile mark in 1:36 1/5 with a two-length advantage, but started to weaken significantly in the final furlong. Wise Dan, who weaved in and out during the stretch drive, threatened to win while charging on the far outside late, but Ron the Greek closed determinedly to get up in the final jumps.
He stopped the teletimer in 1:50 2/5 on the fast track.
Owned by Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and breeder Jack T. Hammer, Ron the Greek was overlooked as the 9-1 fifth choice among eight rivals and returned payouts of $20.80, $6.40 and $5.40 to his supporters. Wise Dan, the 4-5 favorite, wound up nearly a length better than third-placer Nates Mineshaft. The runner-up survived a claim of objection from the jockey of Rogue Romance, who wound up another 1 1/4 lengths back in fourth. Alternation, Nehro, Mission Impazible and Fort Larned completed the order of finish.
Ron the Greek has captured four of his last six starts, posting a five-length win in the Sunny and Mild Stakes in November before adding a 2 1/4-length win in the Queens County Stakes to his line one month later. He opened the year with a second to Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic. The Florida-bred also captured the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes in 2010.
With the $262,932 payday, Ron the Greek joined the millionaire's club, boosting his bankroll to $1,112,597 from a 19-7-4-1 career line. He is the only registered stakes winner out of the winning Fortunate Prospect mare Flambe', who is a full sister to stakes-placed Fortuesque, herself the dam of Grade 2 winner and dual classic-placed Musket Man. This female family has also produced 1969 champion two-year-old colt Silent Screen.