05/06/2017 6:49PM

Connect wins third stakes in row with Westchester

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Susie Raisher/NYRA
Connect notched his third straight stakes victory with the Westchester.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Connect kicked off his 4-year-old campaign with a strong victory in the Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont Park on Saturday and has now won three consecutive graded stakes and four of his last five starts dating back to last July.

Owned by Paul Pompa Jr. and trained by Chad Brown, Connect  concluded his 3-year-old season by winning the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby over Gun Runner at Parx Racing and defeating older rivals in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. On Saturday, in his first start in more than five months, Connect circled the leaders nearing the stretch of the Westchester under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and powered home as much the best to win by 4 3/4 lengths.

"I settled him early, just waited before the turn, and then went around everyone," Ortiz said. "He's a very nice horse."

Earlier this week, Brown said he would like to use the Westchester as a way to get to the $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap on June 10.

Connect figures to be a strong factor in that Grade 1, which like the Westchester will be run at a mile at Belmont.

Connect, a son of Curlin, was timed in 1:36.49 over a good track. He paid $3 as the heavy favorite in the seven-horse field.

The Westchester was the third win on the Belmont card for Brown and Ortiz, who earlier had teamed to win the Grade 3 Sheepshead Bay with Sea Calisi and a maiden race with Build to Suit.

Virtual Machine, who pressed the early pace outside Greenpointcrusader, was no match for Connect but was clearly second best, finishing 8 3/4 lengths ahead of Frammento, who was up to nail Mohaymen for third by a half-length in deep stretch.

Mohaymen, who was making his first start since August, lodged a mild bid wide into the stretch but never reached serious contention.