Ladies’ Classic: Ask The Moon upsets Ruffian

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Jockeys and agents study form, line up morning works, talk to trainers and carefully choose mounts. And sometimes they just answer the phone.

Javier Castellano would have simply watched Sunday’s Grade I Ruffian Stakes until trainer Marty Wolfson called about Ask The Moon. The 5-year-old mare needed a jockey after Luis Saez stayed at Monmouth Park to ride on the Haskell undercard. Castellano agreed, but wasn’t sure what he was getting into.

“About 11, 11:30, the last minute, they called and said you’re picking up the mount,” he said. “I figured it was a good pick-up mount. It’s a Grade I race. I didn’t know anything about the horse, though. I didn’t even see a replay.”

Ask The Moon and Castellano got along like old friends, making the lead with a Quarter Horse start from the rail, controlling the race throughout and winning by 5 3/4 lengths over Super Espresso and Payton d’Oro. The latter was moved up from fourth on the disqualification of Tiz Miz Sue for interference in the stretch. Sent off at 18-1, Ask The Moon covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.46 and earned an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic for Farnsworth Farm and trainer Marty Wolfson.

The trainer came up with the pace play, telling Castellano to try for the lead in a race seemingly heavy of early speed with Absinthe Minded and Dynazaper among the field of seven.

“Don’t be afraid to put her on the lead,” Wolfson told Castellano.

“What? The lead? Everybody wants the lead,” Castellano thought.

Wolfson’s instructions did not say go at all costs, only that Ask The Moon would be tough to pass if she found a spot up front. Castellano found it, beating Absinthe Minded to the first turn and forcing the others to play stalking roles.

“He said the horse doesn’t like to rate, she’s free running,” Castellano said. “He has good opinions, so I listened to him. She beat the gate, she jumped so quick. I took advantage and let her run to the first turn. She got a position.”

From there, Ask The Moon dictated. She went the first quarter-mile in 23.61 seconds, passed the half-mile in 46.92 and clocked 6 furlongs in 1:10.83. By the quarter pole she was 3 1/2 lengths in front and running away. She drifted in the stretch, but won easily to halt a 12-race losing streak dating to October 2009.

“The key was the first turn, when she was able to relax,” Castellano said. “The ears went back and forth, she listened to me. We were going pretty fast into the first turn, then she came back. She was galloping along so happy. I knew when it was going to be time to push the button she was going to go. I got to the quarter pole I asked her and she took off.”

The daughter of Malibu Moon raced for trainer Ned Allard until two starts ago at Belmont.

Trainer Gary Contessa claimed her for Farnsworth in June, spending $75,000 on the Maryland-bred. She was second that day and third in her first start for the new owners, in Belmont’s Sky Beauty Stakes. Ask The Moon joined Wolfson’s string at Monmouth Park, site of her last three works before the Ruffian.

Ask The Moon, bred by Charlie and Cynthia McGinnes and Country Life Farm, sold at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic as a yearling for $45,000 (to Nick de Meric) and at Ocala Breeders Sale the next year for $125,000 (to Allard).

She came into Sunday’s Ruffian with eight prior victories including two stakes.

The Grade I completed a big weekend for Castellano, who won the Grade I Diana and the Grade II Jim Dandy the day before.

“Today was a lucky day,” he said. “You never know in this game. Sometimes, you just get a phone call.”