Godolphin Stable's Ashkal Way bowed his neck in deep stretch and got the best of Free Thinking in the final jumps to win the $250,000 Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at one mile on the Belmont Park turf Saturday.
Ridden by Mike Luzzi, the Irish-bred Ashkal Way set a stakes record of 1:32.07 to win by a head. The clocking, over one turn on firm going over the Widener Turf Course, was three-fifths off the track mark.
Saeed bin Suroor trains Ashkal Way, who made it back-to-back grade II wins with his impressive effort in the Kelso. The 4-year-old Ashkalani gelding won the 1 1/8-mile Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. IIT) by a neck at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 26.
"Today, we had a group I win with Caradak in France," said bin Suroor. "We also have Echo of Light (also a winner in France on Saturday) and Ashkal Way for the Breeders' Cup Mile. We'll keep our options open for all three of them for the Breeders' Cup. Nothing is finalized. We'll have to see them."
The chestnut colt got a perfect spot racing fourth off the rail as 25-1 Baron Von Tap and Friendly Island dueled for the lead through an opening of :22 4/5 for the quarter-mile and :45 2/5 for the half. As they rounded the turn, Ashkal Way moved into contention on the outside as Free Thinking and Jose Santos overtook Friendly Island for the lead. The two hooked up mid-stretch and fought it out to the wire with Ashkal Way gaining a slight lead in the final stages in an exhilarating finish.
Luzzi rode the colt to a second-place finish in the Fourstar Dave (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Aug. 6. "I thought I waited a little too long that day. He seems to be a fighter, too. He put his head in front. It's a real good feeling when you got one that wants to keep his head there."
Since transferring to the U.S. from the United Kingdom this spring, Ashkal Way has won five times in six starts. Overall, he has a record of 7-3-2 in 15 starts with earnings of $513,349.
"We're very happy with the way he finished the race," bin Suroor said. "I think the mile really suits him. Firmer ground really suits him, and if Ashkal Way is sound after this race, it will be possible for him to go to the Breeders' Cup. This horse is very tough. He's a fighter. He gives his best all the time."
Second choice in the field of seven, Ashkal Way paid $6.20, $3.50, and $2.40. Free Thinking returned $8.80 and $4.30, finishing 2 1/4 lengths clear. Art Master, the 8-5 favorite ridden by Edgar Prado, was in the thick of things while rallying from the rear of the compact field, but settled for third and paid $2.50.
"I was really happy where I was at," said Prado. "He went to kick it in, but just got a little tired. Second off the layoff is going to be key."
Meteor Storm finished fourth, a neck behind Art Master. Then came Drum Major, Baron von Tap, and Friendly Island. Old Forester, winner of the Cliff Hanger (gr. IIIT) at the Meadowlands Friday night, was scratched.