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Bob Kieckhefer’s weekend turf stakes recap:


Ascend, an outside chance in a talented field, got first run to the lead in the stretch in Saturday’s $1.2 million Grade I Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park and held off the favorite, Time Test, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Sadler’s Joy, Beach Patrol and World Approval were right behind in that order. After an uninspired early pace, Ascend, a 5-year-old Candy Ride gelding, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.97. It was his third straight win but he was taking a huge jump in class, making his first-ever appearance in a graded stakes. “He gave him a beautiful ride,” winning trainer Graham Motion said of jockey Jose Ortiz. “He was in a great spot, a good set up. Pretty much how we thought it’d set up. He ran a great race, but you don’t expect to win at 25-1.” Javier Castellano, who rode Time Test, lamented, “I wish I could have a little more speed in the race, more pace. It could have been close in the end.”

Jose Ortiz guided Ascend to the upset in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan at Belmont Park.
Ascend held off Time Test to spring the upset in Saturday’s $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan. Joe Labozzetta/Coglianese Photography

Belmont struck gold with its offer of a berth in Friday’s $400,000 Gold Cup Invitational to the winner of last month’s Group 2 Comer Group International Oleander-Rennen at Hoppegarten in Germany. Red Cardinal, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred Monjeu gelding, won the German race, his connections accepted the invitation and Red Cardinal rolled by the leaders in the stretch to win Friday’s race by a neck. St Michel rallied from even farther back to take second, 2 lengths in front of Now We Can, last year’s runner-up for his owner, Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. Red Cardinal’s trainer, Andreas Wohler, said the Group 1 Melbourne Cup in November is the main target. “He’ll probably have his next race in France,” Wohler said. “He then could race in Germany or in Australia itself. We want to give him a little break before he comes back. He’ll be fresh for the campaign then.”

Sharp Samurai got a smooth rail trip in the stretch run in Saturday’s $100,000 Rainbow Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita and got by the favorite, Conquest Farenheit, for a 1 1/4-lengths victory. Conquest Farenheit had collared pacesetting Monster Man earlier in the stretch run and held second over that foe despite a claim of foul by Monster Man’s rider, Santiago Gonzalez. Sharp Samurai avoided the traffic issues and finished 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.51 with Gary Stevens up for trainer Mark Glatt. The First Samurai gelding now is 3-for-6.

Filly & Mare Turf

Hawksmoor sprinted out to a big lead in Friday’s $500,000 Grade II New York Stakes at Belmont, got a breather toward the end of the backstretch, then found more in the stretch and won by 1 length. Quidura ran second all the way and finished in that spot, 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Kitten’s Roar. The three big favorites, Sea Calisi, Suffused and Dacita, made no impression while finishing fourth, fifth and sixth. Hawksmoor, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred Azamour filly, toured 1 1/4 miles on the firm inner turf course in 2:01.18. “She proved today that she can go a mile and a quarter,” said winning rider Julien Leparoux. “I think she can go even longer if we need to, so she’s very versatile with distance and how the track is.”

Dona Bruja drove by pacesetting favorite Believe In Bertie in the final sixteenth to win Saturday’s $100,000 Old Forester Mint Julep at Churchill Downs by 1 1/2 lengths. Sky My Sky was third, 5 1/4

It was the Argentine star's first race in the United States.
Dona Bruja wore down Believe in Bertie to capture Churchill Downs’ Old Forester Mint Julep. Coady Photography

length behind Believe in Bertie. Dona Bruja, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.46 for jockey Declan Cannon. She posted eight wins and two seconds in 10 starts at San Isidro. Saturday’s race was her first U.S. start. “She was bred in Argentina and was a champion over there,” said winning trainer Ignacio Correas IV. “The turf courses are different here than in Argentina but she handled everything great.” He said he is eyeing the Grade I Beverly D. on Arlington Million weekend.

Turf Sprint

Disco Partner made up a ton of ground around the turn and snuck through a spot on the rail turning for home in Saturday’s $300,000 Grade I Jaipur Invitational at Belmont Park, finished with vigor to win by 1/2 length over Green Mask and shattered the course record, finishing 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:05.67 under Irad Ortiz Jr. The old mark was 1:06 3/5. He ran the final quarter in 21.87 seconds. Holding Gold finished third. Disco Partner, a 5-year-old son of Disco Rico, picked up his third win from his last four starts and first in a graded stakes. “Irad had him placed in a good position and he was able to take advantage and move forward to finish in the end,” said winning trainer Christophe Clement.

Turf Mile

Antonoe made it 2-for-2 in her U.S. career, sneaking up the hedge to win Saturday’s $700,000 Grade I Longines Just a Game for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over Sassy Lil Lila. Dickinson challenged pacesetter Sassy Lil Lila for the lead through mid-stretch, then finished third. Antonoe, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of First Defence out of the Dynaformer mare Ixora, was last of seven at the top of the lane before jockey Javier Castellano swung her to the inside for the winning move. She ran 1 mile out of the backstretch chute in 1:32.12 with Javier Castellano up for owner Juddmonte Farms. “I don’t think that I’ve ever had a horse in my training career come home that fast on turf, at any distance, at any level,” said winning trainer Chad Brown, who has handled more than a few good ones. Antonoe won a Group 3 event in France as a 2-year-old but found the waters there a little deep and was sent to Brown after the 2016 season. She won an allowance race at Keeneland in April in her first start on these shores.

South Africa

Elusive Silva edged Crowd Pleaser in a head-bobbing finish with Black Arthur in close attendance in Saturday’s Grade 3 Cup Trial at Greyville, shedding some light on prospects for the Grade I Vodacom Durban July in three weeks‘ time. Elusive Silva, a 4-year-old son of Silvano, was below his best in his previous start but offered every hope for the July to his trainer Justin Snaith, with Saturday’s performance.

One race later, Captain America saw off Trip to Heaven by 1 1/2 lengths in the Grade 1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge with Bela-Bela third and The Conglomerate, last year’s July winner, fifth. Captain America stayed close to the pace, took over in the stretch and was too good to catch. Trip to Heaven had missed the break slightly and found that handicap too much to oversome.

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