06/07/2017 10:20AM

With loss of Connect, Pompa takes bad with good

Michael Amoruso
Paul Pompa Jr. lost Connect to injury but still has two horses for the Metropolitan Handicap.

ELMONT, N.Y. – When his cellphone rang at 8:15 in the morning May 27 and Chad Brown’s name was displayed on the caller ID, Paul Pompa Jr. didn’t have a good feeling.

“When you get a call from a trainer at a weird time, you just wonder what name they’re going to mention,” Pompa said.

In this instance, unfortunately for him, the name was Connect, the winner of last fall’s Grade 1 Cigar Mile and the expected favorite for Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.2 million Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. Brown told Pompa the horse had a problem. It was ultimately diagnosed as an injured suspensory ligament and likely will end the horse’s career.

“There’s a very high likelihood that Connect won’t run again due to the severity of the injury, my concern for the horse, and the breeding syndicate,” Pompa, who has a deal to retire the horse to Lane’s End Farm at the end of 2017, said in a recent interview. “It’s very disappointing. Connect is probably the nicest horse that I’ve ever owned.”

This from a man who owned Big Brown, the winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness who was eased in the Belmont Stakes.

Connect’s injury is about the only thing that has gone wrong for Pompa this spring. At the Belmont Park spring-summer meet, Pompa has 8 wins and 3 seconds from 11 starts. Two of the losses came by a neck and a nose.

“This is probably the best athletic group of horses that I ever had,” Pompa said. “It’s sad to lose Connect; that’s just the way it goes. I’m not the only guy who’s going to lose a big-time horse. It happens all the time.”

While he lost the favorite for the Met Mile, Pompa still will have two runners in the race with Rally Cry and Tommy Macho, both trained by Todd Pletcher. Pompa also will be represented in Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational with Send It In.

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There has been a lot expected from Rally Cry, a 4-year-old son of Uncle Mo. He was sidelined for the second half of his 3-year-old season due to sore cannon bones, Pompa said. After finishing second in his 4-year-old debut at Gulfstream Park, Rally Cry won a second-level allowance race here April 30, earning a 106 Beyer Speed Figure.

“He’s jumping up into a different class, but he’s an Uncle Mo, and Todd has always been very high on the horse,” Pompa said. “Todd told me he’s one of the top three work horses he’s ever trained, and that says a lot.”

Tommy Macho is a three-time Grade 3 winner, including a 5 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream in January. Most recently, Tommy Macho finished third after twice being shut off in the stretch in the Grade 1 Carter at Aqueduct.

“We tried to trip up the Carter,” Pompa said. “It was a little short for him, and he got sawed off at the end, but I think with a good trip, this Met Mile is going to hit him right between the eyes.”

Earlier on the card, Pompa will have the potential favorite in the Brooklyn in the New York-bred Send It In, whom Pompa also bred. Send It In, a gelding by Big Brown, is coming off a half-length victory over Tu Brutus in the Grade 3 Excelsior at Aqueduct on April 8. Send It In was assigned a 119 Beyer, while Tu Brutus came back to win the Flat Out Stakes by 11 lengths in his next start, earning a 109 Beyer.

Send It In certainly has come a long way since he twice got beat for maiden $40,000 claiming in New York-bred company.

“He’s probably if not the most improved horse we’ve ever had from Day 1 to where he’s gotten, he’s way up there,” Pletcher said. “There was a time when I really didn’t think he could run much at all. We just kept training him and training him; when we needed a workmate, we used him. He finally got better and better.”

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Pompa said he’s owned horses for 17 years. Mostly, he owns them by himself, but he will take on a partner if he has a horse to sell and wants to retain a piece or if he wants to buy a horse and the owner wants to stay in. Pompa said he concentrates on “quality over quantity,” but he does have 33 racehorses, including 10 2-year-olds.

Pompa keeps horses with trainers Brown, Pletcher, Brian Lynch, and Linda Rice. With Lynch, Pompa owns the gelding Turbo Street, who is entered in a third-level allowance here Friday.

“He’s a nice action horse,” Pompa said. “I claim sometimes, and I buy action horses not to put pressure on the 2-year-olds.”

This week marks nine years since Big Brown was eased in the Belmont Stakes as the 1-5 favorite while attempting to win the Triple Crown.

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“All the hype, all the excitement, everybody was rooting for him,” said Pompa, who co-owned Big Brown with IEAH Stables. “To have it end that way was surreal.

“I try not to have premeditated expectations because then you just let yourself down. That was a disappointing day, but I’ve won over 400 races in my career, and I still get a rush when you win a race because it’s hard.

“One day, you have the favorite for the Met Mile. The next day, the horse will probably never run again. That’s pretty much the way owners live.”