Paul Pompa’s 3-year-old Pennsylvania Derby winner Connect ran a huge race to get his first Grade 1 win in Saturday’s Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, dueling through the length of the stretch with the year-older Divining Rod and getting the nod by a narrow nose on the wire. Ridden by Javier Castellano, the son of Curlin completed the one-turn mile over the fast main track in 1:35.34 for trainer Chad Brown.
“It was an exciting race and this is such a nice horse,” said Brown. “Javier [Castellano] really rode him good. He had to move a little earlier than he wanted and he got a bit of a wide trip, but he knew how to time it just right. Then he got in a battle with a real classy horse [No. 10, Diving Rod) there on the inside, and luckily, we came out on top in the photo.”
Anchor Down was very quick out of the gate from the inside stall, but was quickly accompanied on the lead by Threefiveindia. Realm and Divining Rod moved as a team from third, with Tale of S’avall and Connect tracking from fifth and sixth, respectively. Threefiveindia forced Anchor Down through fractions of :23.31 and :46.44, never more than a neck off the leader, while Connect moved into fifth approaching the far turn.
Just as Connect began his rally, Divining Rod began to creep into third and move toward the leaders while three-wide. Connect joined that rival to make a four-wide line around the far turn, and the line of leaders hit the top of the lane together. Threefiveindia was the first to fold, followed quickly by Anchor Down. From there, Connect and Divining Rod were moving as one down the stretch, trading the lead with every stride as each refused to allow the other to go on by.
Nearing the wire, Connect appeared to get a slight lead over Divining Rod, but the two hit the wire at nearly the same time, with Connect’s head coming up just as Divining Rod’s went down. A photo finish declared that Connect was the winner by the narrowest of margins, with Divining Rod relegated to second. Realm stayed on to finish third, with War Story getting up for fourth.
“We had a good trip and that’s all I was looking for today,” Castellano said. “The way it set up was perfect. There was a lot of speed in the race. They went pretty quick and started backing up and every time I asked him, he responded every step of the way. I liked the way he finished. He’s a good horse. He fought back. I’m so proud of the way he did it today.”
Bred in Kentucky by Fox Straus KY, Connect was a $ 150,000 yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July Sale. The colt broke his maiden in his second start, beginning a three-race win streak that culminated in a victory in the Curlin Stakes. He finished sixth in the Travers behind the record-setting Arrogate before going on to defeat (now G1 winner) Gun Runner in the Pennyslvania Derby. Overall, Connect boasts a record of five wins from seven starts, with earnings of over $ 1.2 million.
“He showed a lot today beating older horses,” Brown continued. “We’ve always thought a lot of this horse, and I can’t say enough about Paul Pompa, the owner. He was so patient with this horse. Every time there was a little set back with this horse or some unfortunate news, although never anything terrible with this horse, Paul took it right in stride and said, ‘We know we have a good one. Let’s take it right in stride and do right by the horse and he’ll do right by us.’ I appreciate very much the amount of time he’s allowed me to work with this horse. It’s paid off.”
Watch the race replay here:
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2016 Paulick Report.