Stakes Races

Ascend ($57) springs upset in Woodford Reserve Manhattan

By Sean Morris, for NYRA publicity department
ELMONT, N.Y. — One race before he saddled the favorite for the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, trainer Graham Motion played the role of upsetter when his Ascend pulled away in the stretch of the Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan to prevail by 1 ¼ lengths at odds of 27-1.
Breaking alertly from the gate, jockey Jose Ortiz (who would win the Belmont on the Todd Pletcher-trained Tapwrit) shrewdly nudged Ascend forward to attain closer position heading into the clubhouse turn of the 1 ¼-mile journey, run over a firm inner turf course at Belmont. Ortiz’s early gambit proved even wiser as long shot Applicator set leisurely fractions of 24.60 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 50.09 for the half, and 1:14.39 for three-quarters.
Still within striking range around the far turn after a mile in 1:37.98, Ortiz and Ascend commenced their rally entering the stretch and the pair edged past the front-runners at the eighth pole, with enough in reserve to keep the 6-5 favorite Time Test safely at bay.

“On the first turn, I tried to go in between horses to save ground, but I couldn’t do it because they were going so slow,” said Ortiz. “I stayed behind horses for as long as I could and when they passed the five-eighths pole, I put my horse in the clear. On the second turn, I went out because I knew they were going too slow; he was trying to go.

“By the three-eighths pole, I knew that Applicator was going to pick [the fractions] up, so I wanted to be close to him,” he continued. “When I was ready to move, I did, and he responded very well. When the horse switched leads, I touched him on the back with my whip and he took off. He was very comfortable for the last eighth of a mile.”

Making his graded stakes debut, Ascend covered the distance in 1:59.97. The 5-year-old son of Candy Ride had been patiently handled throughout his career by Motion and owners Stone Farm and Madaket Stables LLC, but his connections saw enough from his seasonal bow — a half-length triumph in the Henry S. Clark on April 22 at Laurel Park — to take a shot on Saturday.
“[Jose] gave him a beautiful ride,” said Motion, who won the 2007 edition of the Manhattan with Better Talk Now. “He was in a great spot; a good set up. It’s pretty much how we thought it’d set up. He ran a great race, but you don’t expect to win at 27-1. As of now, we don’t have any plans with him. It was just this race for now.”
Ascend returned $57 on a $2 win wager and bumped his earnings to $919,280.
Time Test, trained by Chad Brown for Juddmonte Farms Inc., who earlier in the day took the Grade 1 Just a Game with Antonoe, improved on his 2017 unveiling when he was defeated at odds-on in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy at Belmont, but had to settle for second despite uncoiling a strong stretch run.
“They went too slow early and that really hurt us,” said Time Test’s jockey, Mike Smith, who won five graded stakes on the day. “I hit the side of the door [gate] really hard leaving there, too. Had I broke better, I could have maybe gotten up where the winner was at instead of where I was. He just jumped into it and I had to straighten him out. When you are going a mile and a quarter and you get left a little bit, you lose your position and you’re fighting a losing battle after that.”
Sadler’s Joy closed well to finish third, a neck behind Time Test, and was followed in order by Beach Patrol, World Approval, Divisidero, Potemkin, Applicator and Wake Forest.
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