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Connect Earns First G1 Victory in Hard-Fought Cigar Mile

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Paul Pompa Jr.’s Connect held off a hard-charging Divining Rod to seize his first stakes win against older horses – and first Grade 1 – in Saturday’s featured race, the 28th running of the $500,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Anchor Down took control early through the backstretch run, setting fractions of 23.31 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.44 for the half, with Threefiveindia perched to his outside.

Racing in fifth through the opening stages, jockey Javier Castellano kept Connect in the clear as Divining Rod, fourth early, began to move on the leaders in the middle of the turn. The threesome was joined quickly by Connect, who fanned four-wide into the stretch. Anchor Down and Threefiveindia began to fade on the inside as Divining Rod and Connect hooked up in the middle of the lane, in an all-out battle to the wire with Connect getting in front in the final jumps to win by a head.

The winning time was 1:35.34.

“We had a good trip and that’s all I was looking for today,” said Castellano. “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.”

Trained by Chad Brown and sent off as the 3-2 favorite, Connect returned $5 for a $2 win wager.

The 3-year-old Curlin colt picked up his first graded stakes last time out, rallying late to post a half-length victory over eventual Grade 1 Clark Handicap winner Gun Runner in the Grade 3 Pennsylvania Derby on September 24 at Parx. With the Cigar Mile win, Connect, who boasts five wins and a third from seven career starts, pushed his lifetime earnings past the seven-figure mark, to $1.25 million.

“He showed a lot today beating older horses,” said Brown, who picked up his first career victory in the Cigar Mile. “We’ve always thought a lot of this horse, and I can’t say enough about Paul Pompa, the owner. He was so patient with this horse. Every time there was a little setback with this horse or some unfortunate news, although never anything terrible with this horse, Paul took it right in stride and said, ‘We know we have a good one. Let’s take it right in stride and do right by the horse and he’ll do right by us.’ I appreciate very much the amount of time he’s allowed me to work with this horse. It’s paid off.

“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,” he added. “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 [lightly raced] 2-year-old. Beating older horses in a race like this is a very high mark on his resume.”

Donning blinkers for the first time, 2015 Grade 3 Lexington winner Divining Rod checked in five lengths ahead of Realm in third in his fourth race, and second stakes, since returning from a 13-month layoff this fall.

“He ran his race,” said Arnaud Delacour, trainer of Divining Rod. “That was a great race, very exciting finish. We could have got there but we just didn’t. I thought that was a great stretch [run] from both horses. I think Connect is a great horse, so I’m thrilled.”

War Story, Anchor Down, Threefiveindia, Tale of S’avall, Economic Model, Myute and Ocean Knight completed the order of finish.

Cigar Mile Quotes

Chad Brown, winning trainer of Connect (No. 7): “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.”

“I’m real proud of this horse. He hadn’t run since the Pennsylvania Derby, so we freshened him a little and there is always a bit of a risk doing that. He could be a little short. But he had just enough today and got it done at a mile.”

“He showed a lot today beating older horses. We’ve always thought a lot of this horse, and I can’t say enough about Paul Pompa, the owner. He was so patient with this horse. Every time there was a little set back with this horse or some unfortunate news, although never anything terrible with this horse, Paul took it right in stride and said, ‘We know we have a good one. Let’s take it right in stride and do right by the horse and he’ll do right by us.’ I appreciate very much the amount of time he’s allowed me to work with this horse. It’s paid off.”

“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. 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.”

Javier Castellano, winning jockey aboard Connect (No. 7): “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.”

On being in a stretch duel: “You don’t have much to think about. You ride and focus and try to motivate your horse. That’s what I did.”

Arnaud Delacour, trainer of runner-up Divining Rod (No. 10): “He ran his race. That was a great race; very exciting finish. We could have got there but we just didn’t. I thought that was a great stretch from both horses. I think Connect is a great horse, so I’m thrilled.”

“I don’t really think anything could have made a difference. I think everything went pretty much our way. We had good position, we started at the same time as Connect. We fought all the way down the stretch. I don’t see any excuse. We’ll have to regroup and see where we go next.”

Daniel Centeno, jockey aboard runner-up Divining Rod (No. 10): My horse wore blinkers for the first time today. He was more aggressive and more focused. He never gave up. When I asked, he kicked and was [strong] all the way to the wire. He’s run big races before.”

NYRA

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