ELMONT, NY – Connect returned to the track in winning fashion with a dominating 4 3/4-length victory for trainer Chad Brown in Saturday’s Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont Park.
Connect settled in fifth through the early stages, two lengths behind the pace-setting Greenpointcrusader, who took the field of seven through fractions of :22.75 and :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, Jr. “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.”
Sent off at 1-2 and making his first start since winning the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on November 26, Connect posted a final time of 1:36.49 for the 1 mile Westchester, the traditional local prep for the Grade 1, $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap (the “Met Mile”) on Belmont Stakes Day, June 10. He improved his career record to six wins and a third from eight starts for earnings of $1.37 million.
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 at Belmont, as well as Paulassilverlining in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff and Roca Rojo in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs.
Virtual Machine finished second, a comfortable 8 3/4 lengths ahead of a late-charging Frammento. Mohaymen, returning from an eight-month layoff, was fourth, followed by Realm, Greenpointcrusader, and Vorticity.
Connect returned $3, $2.50, and $2.10. Virtual Machine brought back $7.60 and $3.70, while Frammento paid $10.40 to show.