Connect Prevails after a Cigar Mile Stretch Duel

December 01, 2016 08:24am

The post time favorite Connect won a thrilling stretch battle with the four-year-old Divining Rod to take the $500,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct and in doing so added another impressive victory to his late developing record.

The son of Curlin broke his maiden at Belmont Park in May and since then has put together a near perfect record. An allowance win at Belmont was followed by a wire to wire victory in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga. His only loss came in the Travers when Arrogate let the racing world know that some of the best three-year-olds of 2016 were just beginning to unveil their talents. From there, Connect showed a new dimension when he came from off the pace to win the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) over Gun Runner. The ability to rate off of horses would work to his advantage in the Cigar Mile, as well.

"I was a little concerned because this horse hadn't had a race under his belt since the Pennsylvania Derby, but I know how much heart he has and how competitive he is,” said trainer Chad Brown. “He really showed a lot of heart today. It's very rewarding to have a horse who shows you so much, especially as he was an unrated 2-year-old. Beating older horses in a race like this is a very high mark on his resume."

Out of the gate, as was expected, Anchor Down was rushed from the number one post position to set the early fractions while running along the rail. Threefiveindia, another runner for Brown, sat just to the outside of the leader, while two lengths behind was the tandem of Realm on the rail and Divining Rod. Jockey Javier Castellano had Connect sitting comfortably in fifth postion 4 ½ lengths behind the leader, waiting to make his move.

The horses stayed as they were for the first half-mile after fractions of 23.31 and 46.44. At this time Divining Rod moved past Realm and Connect began to make his run on the outside of those two. Three quarters went in 1:11 flat and as the horses straightened out for home there were four across the track with Connect on the far outside of Divining Rod moving the best, while Realm and Anchor Down were unable to keep up.

Connect and Divining Rod battled head and head down the stretch and it appeared that early on in this duel that Divining Rod had put his head in front. The heads were bobbing as the duo approached the wire and the winning margin turned out to be a head. The victory at gave Brown and Castellano their first wins in the Cigar Mile.

Brown added, "It was an exciting race and this is such a nice horse. 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."

Sent off as the 1.50-1 favorite Connect paid $5.00, 3.30, and 2.80 across the board. As the third choice at 5.90-1 Divining Rod paid $5.10 and 4.90. The $2 exacta returned $25.80. Realm held on for third and paid $7.00 to show. Anchor Down faded down the stretch to finish fifth.

Castellano described the trip, "We had a good trip and that's all I was looking for today. 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."

With the victory Connect became a Grade 1 winner, showed that he can handle a high profile one-turn mile, in addition to his sprint win, and his success around two-turns. His record moved to up 7:5-0-1 with earnings of $1,250,000.

Brown said a trip to Florida is next for Connect, "I'm going to let him hang out here for a little bit and recover from that race, then take him down to Palm Meadows. Obviously, we're going to take a look at this Pegasus Cup but there's no firm plans to participate at this point. I'll get him to Florida, see how he's training, and speak to Paul Pompa about it as the month of December goes on."


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Meet Matt Shifman

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs, Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

Since 2012, Matt has been a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

Recently, Matt helped launch Derby Day Racing, a new 2-year-old racing partnership, that just purchased a promising Lookin At Lucky filly named Sooner Schooner.

You may also know Matt by his Twitter, Facebook, and HRN screen nameAndyScoggin.

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