TORONTO, ON – Sam-Son Farm’s homebred El Tormenta made the jump to graded stakes action in a major way on Saturday, taking the lead in the stretch and holding on late to win the $175,000 Connaught Cup Stakes (G2) at Woodbine.

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Breaking from post 7 under Luis Contreras at 7/1 odds, El Tormenta settled two-wide in midpack as the field raced down the backstretch. Up front, Shakhimat and Hold’emforransom dueled through opening fractions of :23.29 and :44.83 with only a handful of lengths separating first from seventh.

As the field straightened for home, El Tormenta had plenty of run but nowhere to unleash it. Contreras soon found a small opening between Hold’emforransom and the 2/1 favorite Yorkton and El Tormenta bullied his way through. Finally seeing daylight, El Tormenta put his nose in front, but he was soon met with a challenge in midstretch from Emmaus along his outside.

The pair battled gamely, but El Tormenta refused to yield. The Gail Cox trainee hit the wire with a neck advantage in a final time of 1:20.29 for the 7-furlong sprint over the firm turf course.

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“This horse was a little rank the last couple times he was here, and today, he was nice and relaxed,” Contreras said. “Gail told me about him. He was fine the whole way, so by the time I asked him to run, he just gave me everything he had. I’m so glad we won the race.”

After languishing near the rear early, Curlin’s Honor rallied down the middle of the track but ran out of real estate and settled for third, 3/4 of a length behind Emmaus in second. Farther back, Yorkton just barely necked out fourth over Savage Battle, while Hold’emforransom and Shakhimat faded in the stretch to complete the order of finish.

Eminent Force was a stewards scratch.

El Tormenta’s win was his first since an allowance victory here on September 8, 2018, and was a nice return to form after finishing eighth and sixth in two subsequent allowance efforts. The 5-year-old gelded son of Stormy Atlantic improved his overall record to 9-3-2-0 with $195,539 earned.

“He’s been a really nice horse to have and train, but he was just so speedy last year – hard to get him to settle, and he certainly did today,” said Cox, who also won the Connaught Cup with Something Extra in 2012 and 2013. “I think he’s just a little more mature this year. This is a big, big step up for him.”

El Tormenta returned $16.70 to win, $6.40 to place, and $3.70 to show. Emmaus brought back $3.60 to place and $3 to show, while Curlin’s Honor paid $3.30 to show.