Connect dominates rivals in Westchester

Connect dominates rivals in Westchester
Photo: Robert Mauhar

Paul Pompa, Jr.'s Grade 1 Cigar Mile winner Connect returned to the track in winning fashion with a dominating 4 ¾-length victory for trainer Chad Brown in Saturday's Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont Park.
Sent off at 1-2, Connect settled in fifth through the early stages, two lengths behind the pacesetting Greenpointcrusader, who took the field of seven through an opening quarter-mile in 22.75 seconds and the half in 45.85. Once Irad Ortiz, Jr. gave his charge the cue in the middle of the turn, Connect surged to the front as Greenpointcrusader dropped back at the end of the turn. Connect held off a brief challenge from 20-1 longshot Virtual Machine to draw off under the wire.
"He's a nice horse," said Ortiz. "He broke good and I just waited before the turn and went around everybody; I had some horse left. I asked him and he went."
Making his first start since winning his first Grade 1 by a head on November 26, Connect posted a final time of 1:36.49 for the one-mile Westchester, the traditional local prep for the Grade 1, $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap ("Met Mile") on Belmont Stakes Day, on June 10. Connect improved his career record to six wins and a third from eight starts for earnings of $1.37 million and returned $3 for a $2 win wager.
The victory gave Brown his fourth coast-to-coast stakes win of the day following Sea Calisi's victory in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay earlier at Belmont and Paulassilverlining and Roca Rojo in the Humana Distaff and Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, respectively, on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs.
Virtual Machine finished second, a comfortable 8 ¾ lengths ahead of a late-charging Frammento. Mohaymen, returning from an eight-month layoff, was fourth, followed by Realm, Greenpointcrusader and Vorticity.
Robert Baker and William Mack's Smooth Daddy rallied in deep stretch and defeated Time Test by a nose in a head-bobbing finish to win the 41st edition of the Grade 3, $150,000 Fort Marcy, concluding the stakes action at Belmont Park.
Smooth Daddy stalked Farz's early pace of a quarter-mile in 25.88 seconds. Jockey Eric Cancel, picking up his first career graded stakes win in the U.S., brought Smooth Daddy to the front, going a half mile in 51.18.
Time Test gained the lead in the stretch, with Smooth Daddy saving ground angling near the rail. The 6-year-old Tom Albertrani trainee needed every foot of the 1 1/8 mile inner turf course, hitting the wire in 1:52.64 on a yielding track for his first graded stakes win.
"Once I got to the three-eighths, their instructions were to let him go because he doesn't like to be around other horses too much when it's time to run," Cancel said. "When I got to the eighth pole, I noticed that I still had some horse, so I went to my second option, a left-handed whip, and he reacted to it. 
"I could feel the horse was coming back and he was giving me all he's got," he added. "I wasn't surprised but I'm really happy we ended up winning. I can't complain, he did it well."
Smooth Daddy, who twice was a runner-up finisher in graded stakes, including last year's Fort Marcy, won for just the second time since 2014. The 17-1 longshot paid $37.20 on a $2 win bet, improving his career earnings to $462,301.
"He was second in this race last year and he's always game," Albertraini said. "Once he gets in front he really digs in and did it again today. Eric said he didn't feel like the horse was giving up when he came to him and luckily he got the right bob. Going forward we'll see what happens after today. Sometimes he takes a little time between his races so we'll just let the dust settle and see how he's doing the next couple of weeks or so." 
The English-bred Time Test nearly gave Brown a clean sweep of the three graded stakes on the day, after the trainer won the Sheepshead Bay and Westchester. The ultra-consistent 5-year-old, whose lone previous start in the country was a 10th-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile, was second to improve to 6-3-1 in 12 career starts. 

Messi, Farz and Jay Gatsby completed the order of finish. Eirigh, Go Around and Highland Sky were scratched.

Source: NYRA Communications

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