On September 24th, Connect captured his first graded stakes win – the G2 Pennsylvania Derby – by cruising past some of the top three year olds in the country coming down the lane. This victory pushed his career record to 6: 4-0-1 with earnings of over $900,000, and now this consistent colt is becoming one to watch as we approach the Breeders Cup. Until his Pennsylvania Derby win, Connect remained somewhat under the radar as a rather lightly raced and late developing colt. This Chad Brown trainee is now definitely gaining respect, and it is possible that we have yet to see the best from him.
Connect is a regally bred bay colt sired by the Champion two time Horse Of The Year Curlin and is out of the unraced Holy Bull mare Bullville Bell, who is also the dam of multiple stakes winner Tani Maru. Bred in Kentucky by Fox Straus KY, Connect was a $150,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale purchase for Paul P. Pompa, Jr. via Xavier International Bloodstock. Pompa, Jr, a co-owner of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, has had a steady stream of stakes winners, including fourteen graded stakes victories. He currently has thirty-five horses in training split among Brown, Todd Pletcher, and Pat Reynolds.
Connect entered Chad Brown’s barn as a two year old and made a strong impression in the barn from the start. Due to some minor injuries, Connect raced only once as a 2 year old in a 6 ½ furlong Maiden Special Weight at Aqueduct in December where he finished a well run 3rd to Condo King and King Kranz. Due to some soundness issues, Connect didn’t return to the racetrack until late Spring at Belmont Park, when he picked up consecutive victories in a Maiden Special Weight and an Allowance race. After those two decisive wins, Connect was entered in the inaugural running of the 1 1/8 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga. Fittingly, Connect cruised to his first stakes victory under John Velazquez in a race named after his sire.
Connect was now drawing considerable attention as an up and coming colt, and although somewhat lightly raced, his three consecutive wins had earned him a spot in the prestigious Travers Stakes, where he would face some of the top three year olds in the country. Connect’s 6th place finish would end up being an after thought for those who witnessed fellow late bloomer Arrogate’s awe-inspiring performance, winning by 12 lengths and setting a new stakes record in the process.
Following his middle of the pack performance in the Travers, it was discovered that Connect was suffering from a lung infection, so the Chad Brown team decided to give the colt a short break and wait for a chance at redemption in the G2 1 ⅛ mile Pennsylvania Derby on September 24th. With “big name” three year colts like Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Preakness and Haskell winner Exaggerator, and 3rd place Kentucky Derby finisher Gun Runner entered in the the Pennsylvania Derby, Connect would come into this race very much under the radar, but most handicappers and fans alike were in for a surprise.
Breaking from post 4 at odds of 10-1, Connect broke very well and found a ground saving position on the rail under a patient ride from Javier Castellano. Awesome Slew jumped out for the early lead over the 12-horse field, taking a two-length advantage over Cupid through an opening quarter in :23.01. Nyquist had a good spot early on just behind those leaders in third. Gun Runner was nearer the rail in fourth, with Connect closest of all to the inside on the rail in fifth. After a slightly slower second quarter mile, Awesome Slew tried to sprint away entering the far turn with Nyquist applying pressure nearing the head of the lane. Castellano had timed his move perfectly aboard Connect on the inside rail, and with an almost perfect trip, Connect found room as Awesome Slew dropped back and took over the lead. Meanwhile, Gun Runner circled Nyquist to mount his challenge along the outside. Gun Runner proved the winner’s top challenger and rallied while racing very wide in the lane, but he had to settle for second best as Connect prevailed by a half-length. His final final time of 1:50.20 for nine furlongs on the fast main track was good enough for an impressive 110 Beyer Speed Figure. To most, this was a huge upset considering the many talented horses in the field, but victory came as no surprise to the Chad Brown team.
Trainer Chad Brown stated “We always thought a lot of Connect. He’s a horse that took a while to come around. He had a couple of minor injuries along the way and he finally showed what we thought all along about him—that he could be a top 3-year-old dirt horse.”
Connect’s owner Paul Pompa Jr. said, “Chad gets right to the point. He tells you if he likes a horse or doesn’t. I paid a lot for one of the colts I sent him, and even before Connect broke his maiden, Chad said that colt doesn’t breathe the same air that Connect breathes.” On future plans for the Curlin colt, Chad Brown stated, “We’re very excited about him. So far he looks okay, and we’ll form a plan in the days to come. The Breeders’ Cup will be considered, but there are other races as well and other routes we can take with him. He’s definitely an exciting horse for the future.” Chad Brown later released that those other races could be the Clark Handicap or the Cigar Mile.
One thing is for sure, Connect is finally making a name for himself. I have been a loyal fan of this horse since his first win back in May at Belmont, and as my second pick in the Pennsylvania Derby, I was thrilled to see him capture his first graded stakes win against such a deep field.. His breeding, personality, and running style all screams classic horse to me. Connect, along with Travers winner Arrogate, though both fairly lightly raced, may hold an advantage over many of the other colts in the 3 year old division due to their time to mature and train into serious racehorses. Also, when you hear Chad Brown so full of confidence and praise for a horse, that should not go ignored. I believe Connect could be one of the top three year old colts in the country, and we are yet to see the best from this Curlin colt.
Watch out for the name Connect to be in future racing headlines very soon.