It was a strange yet rewarding day for Bill Mott. After losing with two-time champion mare Royal Delta, his least likely winner took the big one. Mott ended the afternoon smiling and stunned in the winner's circle at Belmont Park. When a 21-1 shot crushes a $1-million stakes by 6¾ lengths, even a 60-year-old Hall of Fame trainer must yield to a sense of wonder.
"You never know," Mott said after the 6-year-old Ron the Greek dominated the Grade I, 1¼-mile Jockey Gold Cup. He was 0-for-5 since an 11-length runaway Jan. 19 at Gulfstream Park. "He ran like he did in the Sunshine Millions. And it looks like he did it in racehorse time , too. Today he ran like a different horse."
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Mott almost entered Ron the Greek in a mile stakes on the card. "I was vacillating between the Gold Cup and the Kelso just so he'd have some pace to run at," he said. "He was up on the pace himself, just like in the Sunshine Millions. He was in the bridle today and he flat-out outran everybody."
Flat Out, his stablemate, was among those Ron the Greek ($44) left behind. Flat Out, the 5-2 favorite, was trying to become the first horse to win three straight Gold Cups since the great Kelso (1960-62). Flat Out finished third, 1¾ lengths in back of Palace Malice. Then came Vitoria Olimpica, Last Gunfighter, Alpha, Cross Traffic and Orb, more than 22 lengths out of it.
Jose Lezcano put Ron the Greek on the rail at the start and stayed there in third before blowing the race open leaving the far turn. He led by two lengths at the quarter-pole and by four with a furlong to run. "When I asked him, he took off and was gone," Lezcano said. "He never stopped. It was unbelievable."
Todd Pletcher trains Palace Malice and Cross Traffic. "I thought Palace Malice ran great," he said. "He beat a lot of nice older horses today. Ron the Greek is one of those horses who on occasion runs a monster race, and he did that today."
Earlier, Mott watched 1-5 favorite Royal Delta lose by two lengths to the 3-year-old filly Princess of Sylmar in the Grade I Beldame.
"I don't think Royal Delta ran her 'A' race,'' Mott said, "but I give full credit to the winner. She's a champion. I just hope we can make amends in the Breeders' Cup."
Mott had already shaken off the Beldame as he gushed about upsetting the marquee event of Belmont's fall meeting.
"You gotta love Ron the Greek," he said. "Everybody loves Ron the Greek! Every once in a while he'll throw in one of these. I can't determine when, but he did it today."