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ELMONT, NY – One race before saddling the favorite in the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes, 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 1/4 lengths at odds of 27-1.
Breaking alertly from the gate, jockey Jose Ortiz shrewdly nudged Ascend forward to attain closer position heading into the clubhouse turn of the 1 1/4-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, :50.09, and 1:14.39.
Still within striking range around the far turn after a mile in 1:37.98, Ortiz and Ascend commenced their rally entering the stretch. The pair edged past the front-runners at the 1/8 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 5/8 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 3/8 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 1/8 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 1/2-length triumph in the Henry S. Clark on April 22 at Laurel Park — to take a shot on Saturday.
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“(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 setup. 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.”
With the win, Ascend bumped his career earnings to $919,280.
Time Test, trained by Chad Brown for Juddmonte Farms who took the Grade 1 Just a Game with Antonoe two races earlier, 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. Sadler’s Joy and jockey Mike Smith were a late-charging third, a neck behind Time Test and a head in front of Beach Patrol.
“They went too slow early and that really hurt us,” said 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.”
World Approval, Divisidero, Potemkin, Applicator, and Wake Forest completed the order of finish.
Ascend returned $57, $15.60, and $8.60. Time Test brought back $3.50 and $2.90, while Sadler’s Joy paid $4.50 to show.
Jockey Javier Castellano, Time Test: “I got a good trip. Unfortunately, the way the race unfolded was a disadvantage to my horse. I wish I could have a little more speed in the race; more pace. It could have been close in the end.”
Trainer Chad Brown, Time Test: “I’m disappointed with the lack of finish. I thought he had a good trip. The race didn’t unfold as quite as I anticipated. No pace, then again it was not like he was stopped. We had every opportunity to kick on and try to run down the winner and he couldn’t. I’m proud of him that he got up for second. I think he’s a really nice horse.”
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