Ascend’s upset special

- -

One of the most alluring aspects of racing is that regardless of how much money is spent and how thoroughly past performances and breeding are analyzed, no horse is a sure bet.

Million-dollar horses sometimes never win a race, modestly bred $1,000 yearlings win Grade 1s and longshots occasionally bury their competition, leaving racing fans scanning through their programs trying to figure out where this horse came from and how they ever could have missed it in their pre-race analysis.

That’s exactly what unfolded last weekend at Belmont Park for Ascend, who shocked the big crowd in the $1 million Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

With a field of proven, classy horses to outrun in the Manhattan, the 5-year-old Candy Ride gelding made his graded stakes debut for co-owners Stone Farm and Madaket Stables and trainer Graham Motion at monster odds of 27-1. Following a victory in his last start in the Henry S. Clark Stakes April 22 at Laurel Park, Motion felt the jump in class was a suitable challenge, despite the odds being against him.

“No, I wasn’t surprised,” laughed Motion of his final odds. “I know he was 25-1, but we really felt he belonged. He got a really good break with the weights so we obviously felt really good about running him. We didn’t know if he’d step up but he did. He’s just a really cool, good disposition horse and really talented.”

Jockey Jose Ortiz, who later in the day won his first classic aboard Tapwrit in the Belmont, rode the winner. Bred by Stone Farm, Ascend broke well and immediately settled just off the pace as they careened over three-quarters of Belmont’s immaculate turf course in an unhurried 1:14.39. Ortiz swung wide going into the upper stretch, breaking free of the pack and stretching out to hold off favorite Time Test by 1 1/4 lengths.

“Everything went well,” Ortiz said. “I stayed behind and the other ones were going too slow, and when I was ready to move I did. When my horse was finishing, I touched him behind with my whip and he just took off. I was very confident in him going into the finish. He was very comfortable the last eighth of a mile.”

The Manhattan brought the gelding’s earnings to $804,280, and his connections believe the best is still yet to come for the sleek gray out of the Silver Ghost mare Ghost Dancing.