Paul Pompa's Connect, winner of the listed Curlin Stakes named for his sire two starts back at Saratoga, sprang the upset at odds of 10-1 in Saturday's Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing, defeating Gun Runner by a half-length on the wire. Cleverly ridden by Javier Castellano, the sophomore Chad Brown trainee saved ground along the inside rail at the far turn, recording a final time of 1:50.20 for nine furlongs on the fast main track.
“This kind of horse, he's a big horse,” Castellano said. “I think he put it together today and I'm very satisfied with the way he did it today.”
“He broke really well and found himself in a really good position on the rail saving all the ground,” echoed Cherie DeVaux, assistant to Chad Brown, who was in New York at Belmont Park Saturday. “Javier [Castellano] was really patient with him, took his time with him and made his one run and the horse was really gutsy to hang in there.”
Awesome Slew jumped out to the early lead over the 12-horse field of sophomore colts, 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, away from the kickback on the outside. Gun Runner was nearer the rail in fourth, with Connect closest of all to the inside in fifth. Awesome Speed took a bit of a breather through the second quarter, marking that fraction in :47.35, while giving up a length of his lead to Cupid.
Awesome Slew tried to sprint away again entering the far turn, but Nyquist was hot on his trail just as Cupid began to fade. Nyquist moved up to within a length of length of Awesome Slew nearing the head of the lane, but Castellano had timed his move perfectly aboard Connect on the inside rail. Connect found room as Awesome Slew dropped back, taking over the lead while Gun Runner circled Nyquist to mount his challenge along the outside. Exaggerator came from far back and appeared to be moving well until straightening out into the lane, when he was unable to make up any ground from sixth.
Back at the front, Connect and Awesome Slew angled toward one another to meet in the center of the stretch, dueling for the final 70 yards. Connect maintained his half-length advantage through the wire as Gun Runner had to settle for second. Four lengths back, Wild About Deb closed from tenth to be third, and My Man Sam was fourth. Awesome Slew held on for fifth, followed by Nyquist in sixth, and it was another seven lengths back to Exaggerator in seventh.
“I got him exactly where I wanted to be (outside) – I got no choice of being inside,” jockey Florent Geroux said of Gun Runner. “He's better than most of them, but not lucky enough. He's always moving up, he'll be even better next year.”
“He's such a nice horse,” trainer Steve Asmussen agreed. “[Gun Runner] ran a solid race and beat the horses that beat him in the (Kentucky Derby) later in the year. He was second, but I kind of planned on winning today.”
Bred in Kentucky by Fox Straus KY, Connect was a $150,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Select Yearling Sale purchase. Though he finished sixth behind Arrogate in the Travers last out at Saratoga, a closer to the pace run in the Pennsylvania Derby proved critical for the lightly-raced colt. Overall, Connect boasts a record of four wins from six starts, with earnings of over $900,000 after Saturday's win, his first graded stakes score.
When asked if he thought Connect would be headed to the Breeders' Cup Classic for his next start, Castellano replied: ““It all depends on the trainer and the owner to make the right decisions. I'm the pilot, I just go with the flow.”
Watch the race replay here:
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