Trainer Chad Brown could be holding a strong hand for next month’s Grade 1, $ 1.25 million Travers following an impressive one-two finish in the $ 100,000 Curlin as Connect held off a strong challenge from stablemate and post-time favorite Gift Box to make his stakes debut a winning one on Friday at Saratoga Race Course.
Under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Paul Pompa Jr.’s Connect vied for early contention and led the field of seven through the opening quarter-mile in 24.06 seconds and the half in 48.43. Dolphus and Majesto tracked the pace from the leader’s outside while Gift Box, ridden by Javier Castellano, saved ground in fourth position. Castellano upped the ante in the far turn, meeting Connect at the top of the stretch but was held off by the lightly raced son of Curlin.
Connect extended his control to win his sire’s namesake race by a length and complete the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.69.
“There was no speed in the race so we wanted to make sure he came out of there,” said Velazquez. “He didn’t jump out of there the way I wanted so I had to use him a little bit going into the first turn. Once I got him there I was happy where I was. I tried to slow down the best I could the first part of the race and let him run down the lane. I had to kind of get after him around the second turn. He was kind of drifting away from the horse inside of me. I was trying to keep that horse inside and keep the pressure on, and once he switched down the lane he ran away from the other horse.”
As the 8-5 second wagering choice, Connect returned $ 5.50 for a $ 2 win ticket.
Earning his first victory around two turns, the Curlin victory improves Connect’s lifetime record to three wins and a third from four starts and earnings of $ 165,000.
“This horse [Connect] is lightly raced but we’ve always thought a lot of him,” said Brown. “He developed in each race, running two-turns today and being the pacesetter and be able to hold on and prevail he showed a lot.
“Gift Box ran a good race as well,” Brown added of the runner-up. “He’s coming off a longer layoff so he might have needed this race. He was stuck along the rail but he performed well. With both the horses running 1,2 in any order that’s what we were hoping for. I hate to run them both against each other. But with limited opportunities I thought this raced worked out well for both of them as a prep heading towards the Travers.”
Forever d’Oro closed well to be third, three lengths behind Gift Box. Ready Dancer, Dolphus, Majesto and Swipe completed the order of finish. Uncle Vinny was scratched.
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