BENSALEM, Pa. (Saturday, September 24, 2016) –Under a masterful ride from two time Eclipse winning jockey Javier Castellano, Paul Pompa, Jr.’s Connect rallied to the lead with an eighth of a mile to go and then held off the gallant charge of Gun Runner to win the Grade 2, $1,250,000 Pennsylvania Derby by a half-length.
Breaking from post four, Connect was able to establish excellent early position on the inside of the race track, fourth into the first run while Awesome Slew, from his inside gate, made the front and clicked off a fast opening quarter mile of 23.01. Castellano sat patiently with Connect as they turned into the backstretch, losing a position to fifth nearing the half mile pole, but never leaving his spot nearest the rail. Awesome Slew clicked off the half in 47.35 and now Nyquist loomed. He was third on the outside, just behind the speedy grey Cupid, while Connect began to slowly inch his way closer, again, on the inside.
Awesome Slew finally put away Cupid with just less than three eighths to go, Nyquist now moving to second, Gun Runner now making a three wide move, and Connect saving every bit of ground and putting himself within striking range as the leaders came to the quarter pole. Finally turning for home the pressure was too much for Awesome Slew as Nyquist gained a very short lived lead. Connect was rolling on the inside and Gun Runner was closing on the far outside. Connect got a slight lead with just less than a furlong to go and Gun Runner was valiantly trying to sustain what he hoped would be a winning bid, but to no avail. The ground saved by Castellano would be the difference, as Connect held off Gun Runner to win the lion’s share of the huge $1.25 million purse.
Assistant trainer Cherie DeVaux was here to saddled Connect for winning trainer Chad Brown. “He broke really well and found himself in a really good position on the rail saving ground,” said DeVaux. “Javier was really patient with him, took his time and made his run and the horse was really gutsy to hang in there.”
Castellano, who won the 2007 PA Derby with Timber Reserve, remarked, “This kind of horse, he’s a big horse, and I think he put it together today and I’m very satisfied with the way he did it today.”
Off at 10-1, Connect paid $23.20, 9.80 and 7.20. Gun Runner (5-1) did just about everything to win, finishing second and returned 5.40 and 4.00. Wild About Deb (61-1) made a solid late run for third and paid 21.20 to show. Nyquist had every chance to win but came up short in the stretch run, fading to finish sixth. The final time for the one mile and one-eighth on a fast track was 1:50.20.
Pennsylvania Derby Quotes
Cherie DeVaux assistant trainer to Chad Brown winning trainer for Connect #4: “He broke really well and found himself in a really good position on the rail saving all the ground. 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.”
JAVIER CASTELLANO, rider of winner CONNECT: “This kind of horse, he’s a big horse and I think he put it together today and I’m very satisfied with the way he did it today.”
Castellano regarding a possible try in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: “It all depends on the trainer and the owner to make the right decisions. I’m the pilot, I just go with the flow.”
Losing quotes from Mario Gutierrez and Doug O’Neill on Nyquist:
Jockey Mario Gutierrez on Nyquist #9 odds: 6/5: It was a perfect race. The fractions set up amazedly. I was sitting comfortable . Nyquist just didn’t have it today. He did everything right, just wasn’t his day.
Doug O’Neill trainer of Nyquist #9: Mario had him in a great spot and he just got out run. No excuses. Hats off to the team of Connect.
Still considering for Breeders’ Cup Classic? He’ll go back to California and we’ll huddle up with team Reddam put our heads together and see whatever is in his best interest Give me a week or so. Let’s see how he comes out of this race. I’m so proud of this guy and he is a champ in our minds.
PAUL REDDAM, owner of sixth-place finisher NYQUIST: “The winner ran well and we didn’t have any apparent excuse. We’ll have to check the horse over and make sure that he’s work and we’ll work from there. That was definitely the worst performance of his life, so that’s not how you want to go into the Breeders’ Cup. Maybe it’ll somehow look different tomorrow, but I’m not sure how.”
STEVE ASMUSSEN, trainer of second-place finisher GUN RUNNER: “He’s such a nice horse, he 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.”
FLORENT GEROUX, rider of second-place finisher GUN RUNNER: “I got him exactly where I wanted to be (outside) – I got no choice of being inside. He’s better than most of them, but not lucky enough. He’s always moving up, he’ll be even better next year.”