Bill Mott was laughing in the winner’s circle after his Ron the Greek trounced the field at Gulfstream Park. The Hall of Fame trainer’s horse was the only one to pin a loss in 2012 on Wise Dan, who took home Horse of the Year honors at the Eclipse Award ceremony Saturday.
“They always say that Wise Dan got beat,” Mott said, joking. “But they never say who beat him. They’re always mentioning that he only got beat once and it was on the dirt. But they forget to say who beat him. I’d like to get a little more P.R. for ol’ Ron. We love Ron.”
While the connections for Wise Dan picked up the Eclipse hardware for their horse later in the day, Ron the Greek was kicking off his 2013 racing campaign with an emphatic 11 1/4-length victory in the Sunshine Millions Classic.
Jockey Jose Lezcano urged the 6-year-old horse past the leaders, which included 1-5 favorite Mucho Macho Man — at the top of the stretch and pulled off for a convincing win over Cash Rules.
Mucho Macho Man was eased and finished last.
“I have no idea what happened,” said his jockey, Mike Smith. “He put his head up in the air and stopped.”
It was the first time Mucho Macho Man was off the board since finishing seventh in the 2011 Belmont Stakes, eight races previous. The horse didn’t appear to be in distress as he was being eased past the wire.
Mucho Macho Man was making his first start since running second behind Fort Larned in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita. In that same race, Ron the Greek had finished fourth.
Like Mucho Macho Man, he, too, was making his first start of 2013 — and it was a beaut.
Traditionally a closer who does his early running from well off the pace, Ron the Greek was positioned closer to the front-runners on Saturday’s sloppy track and the change in style seemed to suit him. When Mucho Macho Man ranged up on the pace-setter at the far turn, Ron the Greek shot past and left the field in his wake.
“When I asked him at the three-eighths pole, I had plenty of horse left,” Lezcano said.
Said Mott: “It was a good setup. He was a little closer than he normally is. We had asked Lezcano if he could, to try to be a little closer. I didn’t expect him to be that close.”
But it turned out well in the end.
“He put him in a drive and he shook loose, and the rest is history,” Mott said.
As trainer Kathy Ritvo returned to her barn to find an explanation for Mucho Macho Man’s perplexing performance, Mott was outlining racing plans for his horse’s 2013 campaign. He said it would likely entail a return to the Santa Anita Handicap, which he won last March.
“We’re looking ahead and maybe try to repeat what we did last year, maybe go back to California for the Santa Anita Handicap and try to do that over again,” Mott said.