by Brian Bohl
Stone Farm's Ascend will vie for his second straight graded stakes win and fourth straight victory overall as part of a field of seven 4-year-olds and up in the 59th running of the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Carded as Race 9, the Bowling Green is one of four graded stakes on Saturday's slate, including the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam, the Grade 1, $350,000 Vanderbilt and the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy, presented by NYRA Bets.
Ascend notched his first career Grade 1 win last out, capturing the Manhattan by 1 ¼ lengths as a 27-1 betting choice on June 10, Belmont Stakes Day. The 5-year-old gray horse is unbeaten since October 19, including a win in the Henry S. Clark on April 22 at Laurel Park before posting a personal-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure in the Manhattan on June 10.
"He's done well since the Manhattan and he's a very horse to be around," trainer Graham Motion said. "He's very kind and [easy] to gallop. I hope I've given him enough time to recover from that race."
After winning the Manhattan at 1 ¼ miles, Ascend will stretch out to the Bowling Green's distance of 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf. Five of his six career wins have come at distances of at least one mile.
Motion said jockey Jose Ortiz, who piloted Ascend in the Manhattan, will have the return call from the outside post.
"I don't think he's a horse that needs to have that [experience] of running 1 3/8 miles; that's also something I want to see is how he handles it, because that will help us make decisions for the rest of the year with him," Motion said. "Plus, the fact that we're already there and Jose is able to ride him, there's a lot of upside."
Sadler's Joy will rematch against Ascend, looking to build on a third-place Manhattan finish in which he rallied from seventh for trainer Tom Albertrani. The 4-year-old son of Kitten's Joy has finished on the board in his last seven starts (4-1-2), registering triple-digit Beyers in three of his last four races.
Long distances haven't fazed the Woodslane Farm colt, who won the Grade 2 Pan American on April 1 at Gulfstream Park at 1 ½ miles.
"He's been very consistent and we were a little unlucky his last couple of races, but he runs hard every time he goes out there and it's what we like to see," Albertrani said. "Hopefully he gets a better trip going a little longer than the Manhattan; that should definitely suit him as well, so we're looking forward to stretching him out a little more."
Javier Castellano will be in the irons from post 4.
Multiple graded-stakes winner Bigger Picture is coming off a come-from-behind win in the Grade 1 United Nations on July 1 at Monmouth Park. Rallying from sixth late, the 6-year-old son of Badge of Silver earned a 103 Beyer for the 1 3/8-mile trek.
Bigger Picture won his second graded stakes of the year, building on his effort in the Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup in which he was more forwardly placed for trainer Mike Maker.
Joe Bravo, who rode Bigger Picture in the United Nations, will ride again from the rail.
Closing Bell returned to stakes company last out, finishing sixth in the United Nations. In his 3-year-old season in 2015, the son of Tapit produced impressive performances on turf, finishing second in the Grade 1 Secretariat to Highland Reel and winning the Dueling Grounds Derby for his first stakes win.
After training at Belmont Park last month, Closing Bell has breezed twice at Saratoga for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who said his charge has handled shipping well in going to Kentucky as part of the consignment at the Fasig-Tipton July Selected Horses of Racing Age sale.
"He had to go to Kentucky and then back, but he seems to have bounced out of it well," Mott said. "Not only bounced out of his race well, but bounced out of his trip to the sale and back. Right after he ran in the race at Monmouth he went down to the sale at Fasig-Tipton."
Closing Bell will have the services of jockey Jose Lezcano from post 3.
Hunter O'Riley has the distinction of actually cutting back in distance after running fifth in the Grade 3 Belmont Gold Cup, contested at two miles, last at out June 9. Trained by Jimmy Toner, the 4-year-old was returning to stakes company after winning an April 27 allowance race at Keeneland.
"It was the first time we went against some really heavy hitters and he held his own that day and I hope Saturday he can do the same. He's coming into the race really well physically and he loves the type of track we've had the past couple of days," said Toner assistant Tiffany Webb. "He's relished training up here. Some of the horses don't love that softer track in the mornings, but that's his favorite track."
Hunter O'Riley will exit post 5 wit Florent Geroux aboard.
Frank Conversation will seek his first stakes win of the year from post 2. The Doug O'Neill trainee, who finished third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on December 3 at Del Mar and second in the Grade 2 Charles Whittingham last out on May 28 at Santa Anita Park, will break from post 2 with Mario Gutierrez.
Hello Don Julio, a 4-year-old son of Afleet Alex, will return to stakes company after eight straight allowance races in drawing post 6 for owner and trainer Michael Dilger. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride.