by Teresa Genaro
Trainer Graham Motion came to Belmont Park and won the battle, but lost the war.
A race before his favored Irish War Cry finished second in the Belmont Stakes, he won the Grade 1 Manhattan with Ascend, the second-longest shot on the board at 27-1.
A Stone Farm homebred, Ascend hit new heights in his graded debut and just his second start since last October. Stone Farm co-owns Ascend with Madaket Stables and was represented in the winner’s circle by a jubilant Staci Hancock.
“It is a high of all highs,” she said. “This is the moment you wait for, especially with one you’ve known since he was foaled.
“This was tough company, and he really stepped up. I’m so proud of him.”
“This is what we hoped,” Motion said. “We always thought he was a really nice horse, and he has the coolest disposition. He’s very kind and easy-going.”
Mellow he might be in the barn, but Ascend showed grit and determination in dispatching five Grade 1 winners.
Under jockey José Ortiz, Ascend stalked the pace, running in the three path. After mounting a bid coming around the far turn, the five-year-old son of Candy Ride dueled briefly with World Approval and longshot Applicator before digging in to pull away.
“We thought he was capable or we wouldn’t be here,” Motion said.
Ascend broke his maiden in his second start in February 2016 at Gulfstream Park and raced exclusively in allowance company throughout last year. After a six-month layoff, he returned to win at Laurel over yielding turf in April.
“We gave him time off when he needed it,” Hancock said. “We took care of him, and he took care of us.”
The win is Stone Farm’s first in the Manhattan, and Motion’s second. He won with Better Talk Now in 2007.
An admittedly nervous Motion saddled Irish War Cry to a runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes behind Tapwrit, disappointing those that bet the Motion-Motion double, but thrilling those that had the Jose Ortiz double.
And for Hancock, though she may well have been rooting for Irish War Cry on Motion’s behalf, little could get in the way of her jubilation.
“If you win any kind of race, it’s so exciting,” she said, “but to be here on Belmont Day, in a Grade 1 in New York, is really awesome.”