Ron The Greek powers to a shock success at Belmont ParkPICTURE: Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos
Ron The Greek bounces back in Jockey Club
Report: USA, Saturday
Belmont Park: Jockey Club Gold Cup (Grade 1) 1m2f, dirt, 3yo+
GRADE 1 veteran Ron The Greek (Bill Mott/Jose Lezcano) returned to form in no uncertain fashion to record a 21-1 upset in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the $1 million highlight of the Super Saturday card at Belmont Park.
Palace Malice and Flat Out took the minor placings in a race in which Kentucky Derby winner Orb finished a well-beaten last of eight, one place behind the highly rated Cross Traffic, who faced little chance after missing the kick.
"You gotta love Ron," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "Everybody loves Ron The Greek! This is the Ron The Greek today. This is the same type of race he ran in the Sunshine Millions, the same type of race he ran in California when he won the Santa Anita Handicap. Every once in a while, he'll throw one of these. I can't determine when, but he did it today."
Although the Jockey Club looked set to be the most significant trial of the year for the Breeders' Cup Classic, Ron The Greek's runaway victory paid a massive compliment to ante-post favourite Game On Dude, who has twice beaten him already this season. Game On Dude is being trained up to America's richest race after his eight-length win in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar last month.
Racing closer than usual, Ron The Greek stalked the pace behind Alpha and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice before cutting the corner into the stretch and diving through a gap on the inside rail.
He powered clear to score by six and three-quarter lengths from Palace Malice in a quick time of 1min 59.70sec. The winner's stablemate Flat Out was a further length and three-quarters back in third as he attempted to complete a hat-trick in this historic event.
Ron The Greek was landing his third Grade 1 win after the Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster in 2012. However, the six-year-old had been below that form with five consecutive defeats in 2013, which explains his inflated starting price. "He's old enough - he knows how he wants to run, and he wanted to run big today," added Mott.
Ron The Greek will now return for another crack at the Breeders' Cup Classic, where he was fourth last term behind Fort Larned.
Orb's trainer Shug McGaughey was baffled by a dismal effort. "It's pretty puzzling," he said. "He'd been doing well. He broke good and was sitting in a good position, but at the five-eighths pole, I could see that he dropped the bit, and that was the end of it. He never tried to run after that. I don't know."
Also on Saturday
Churchill Downs: Homecoming Classic (ungraded) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+
Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned (Ian Wilkes/Brian Hernandez) prepared for his defence of his title on November 2 with a wire-to-wire victory in the inaugural running of this $175,000 event under the floodlights. The 3-5 favourite scored by a length and a half over Saratoga allowance winner Windswept.