While Ascend had never raced in a graded stakes race in his 13-race career, trainer Graham Motion saw enough in his previous two starts to enter him against some of the sport's top turf horses.
Motion's aggressive move would pay dividends June 10 at Belmont Park, where Ascend proved worthy of the class upgrade by registering a 1 1/4-length victory in the $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (G1T).
Stone Farm and Madaket Stables' Ascend closed out last season with an allowance win on the Keeneland turf. The Candy Ride gelding then opened his 5-year-old season with a victory in the Henry S. Clark Stakes April 22 on the Laurel Park turf for Motion.
"He ran a great race but you don't expect to win at 25-1," the trainer said.
Sent off at 27-1 under Jose Ortiz in the 1 1/4-mile race on the inner turf, Ascend tracked from fourth as the longest shot in the field of nine, Applicator, cruised through a quarter-mile in :24.60 and a half-mile in :50.09. Ortiz kept Ascend near that easy pace, then tipped his mount into the three path at the half-mile pole.
Coming out of the far turn, Ortiz asked for more and Ascend responded. He would reach even terms with the front runner and World Approval at the quarter pole, before dueling with the latter in early stretch. Ascend dug in and inched away from rivals, safely ahead of the late rally of 6-5 favorite Time Test, who would settle for second, edging Sadler's Joy by a neck.
"He gave him a beautiful ride," Motion said of Ortiz. "He was in a great spot, a good set-up. (It's) pretty much how we thought it'd set up."
Ortiz said his horse found a comfort zone early on his way to completing the race in 1:59.97 on firm turf.
"I stayed behind horses for as long as I could and when they passed the five-eighths pole, I put my horse in the clear," Ortiz said. "When I was ready to move, I did and he responded very well.
"When he switched leads, I touched him on the back with my whip and he took off. He was very comfortable in the last eighth of a mile."
Ascend returned $57 to win, $15.60 to place, and $8.60 to show, while Time Test paid $3.50 and $2.90 for the minor placings. Sadler's Joy paid $4.50 to show.
Juddmonte Farms' homebred Time Test, a two-time group 2 winner in England, was sent off the favorite off a close runner-up finish in the Fort Marcy Stakes (G3T) May 6 at Belmont for trainer Chad Brown.
"I'm disappointed with the lack of finish," Brown said. "The race didn't unfold 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."