April 23, 2024

Ascend, Bigger Picture seek to carry form forward in Bowling Green

Ascend upsetting the Manhattan Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park June 10, 2017 (c) Melanie Martines

Ascend and Bigger Picture will try to back up surprising Grade 1 wins when they line up for Saturday’s $250,000 Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga. The duo tops a field of seven entered for the 1 3/8-mile turf affair.

After opening the year with a victory in the April 22 Henry Clark at Laurel Park, the Graham Motion-trained Ascend was overlooked at 27-1 while making his graded debut in the June 10 Manhattan (G1) on the Belmont Stakes undercard. The gray 5-year-old gelding stretched his win streak to three with the 1 ¼-length decision, racing close to the pace before seizing the lead in upper stretch, and emerged as a serious player in an older male turf division lacking depth.

Jose Ortiz returns to the saddle aboard the up-and-coming son of Candy Ride.

Known for turning former claimers into accomplished long-distance turf performers, Mike Maker continued to enhance his legacy when Bigger Picture recorded a 10-1 upset in the July 1 United Nations (G1) at Monmouth Park. The 6-year-old gelded son of Badge of Silver was haltered for a $32,000 tag in his final start of 2015 and earned his first stakes win in the Red Smith (G3) at Aqueduct 12 months later.

After opening 2017 with a victory in the John B. Connelly (G3) at Sam Houston, Bigger Picture dropped his next two outings and then faced the steepest challenge of his career in the United Nations. The chestnut rallied boldly up the rail to get the money, prevailing by a head, and Joe Bravo will be back aboard Saturday.

Manhattan third-placer Sadler’s Joy will also return for the Bowling Green. Trained by Tom Albertrani, the 4-year-old colt won the Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream Park three starts previously and Javier Castellano will retake the mount.

Frank Conversation invades from the West Coast for Doug O’Neill following a runner-up in the May 28 Charles Whittingham (G2) at Santa Anita. Completing the field are a trio of expected longshots – Closing Bell, Hello Don Juan and Hunter O’Riley.

Surprisingly, Chad Brown will not have a starter. The leading trainer doesn’t sit out many turf stakes at Saratoga, compiling a total of 26 wins on grass during the 2016 meet.