09/24/2016 8:01PM

Connect outshines big-name stars in Pennsylvania Derby

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Debra Roma
Connect, ridden by Javier Castellano, scores a 10-1 upset in the Pennsylvania Derby.

BENSALEM, Pa. - The 12-horse field that went postward in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing on Saturday was comprised of horses at varying stages of their careers.

Nyquist and Exaggerator had won on the biggest nationals stages. Gun Runner and Cupid had won important races but not at this level of competition. Others were in search of their first graded scores.

Connect fell into the latter group, but when the dust cleared he had not only padded his resume but had done it in a style which suggests we will be seeing him in major races from now on.

Owned by Paul Pompa Jr. and trained by Chad Brown, Connect was making only his sixth career start. He had finished a well-beaten sixth in the Travers, his graded stakes debut, but had come out of that race ill.

"He had a pretty significant lung infection," Brown said by phone from Belmont Park. "We cleaned that up and he came back to form today."

Connect was given a ground-saving ride in the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby by Javier Castellano, and held off Gun Runner through the final furlong to win by a half-length. It was four lengths back to Wild About Deb in third.

Awesome Slew hopped out to a clear early lead in the $1.25 million Derby with Cupid galloping along behind him, several lengths ahead of Nyquist, who was third, and Gun Runner, in fourth.

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The fractions were a realistic 23.01 seconds, 47.35, and 1:11.81.

On the far turn, Cupid began to flatten out while Nyquist made a three-wide move after Awesome Slew. Gun Runner commenced his bid four wide and Connect was making progress along the inside.

Entering the stretch, Nyquist challenged for the lead while Connect made a quick move and slipped through inside horses. He had the lead at the furlong pole with Gun Runner challenging from the center of the track. They stayed that way to the wire.

"I was confident in the stretch," Castellano said. "I had a lot of horse and didn't think the other horse was going to get by."

Connect paid $23.20 as fifth choice in the race. His final time was 1:50.20.

Nyquist couldn't sustain his drive in the stretch and came out on the wrong end of a four-horse photo for third, finishing sixth.

"He was in a perfect spot," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "Mario [Gutierrez] said he was kind of struggling with the track but he had a good trip and we have no excuses. We'll take him home and talk about what we should do next."

Exaggerator made a move outside horses nearing the far turn but never reached contention and finished seventh, seven lengths behind Nyquist. My Man sam, Brown's other horse in the race, finished fourth, Awesome Slew held on for fifth, and Cupid dropped back to eighth.

Connect, a son of Curlin, is now 4 for 6 in his career. After losing his career debut at Aqueduct last December, he won three races in a row - a Belmont maiden race in May, a Belmont allowance in June, and the restricted Curlin Stakes early in the Saratoga meet.

"The Travers is the only race where he hasn't fired," Brown said. "We have always have had a lot of confidence in this horse. I'm proud of him. I mean I wouldn't have gone in predicting that we would win against Gun Runner and Nyquist. Those are very tough horses. But I'm not surprised either. He's a big, well-bred horse. Really easy to like."

Brown said he did not have any immediate plans for Connect, as he had been focusing solely on this race.

"I'd like to give credit to my team and also to Mr. Pompa, who once we got him healthy wanted to run in this race," Brown said.