07/29/2016 5:54PM

Stablemates Connect, Gift Box punch ticket to Travers witn one-two finish in Curlin

Debra Roma
Connect, ridden by John Velazquez, wins the 1 1/8-mile Curlin by one length.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Friday’s $100,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga went pretty much as expected with trainer Chad Brown finishing one-two as Connect recorded a one-length, gate-to-wire victory over Gift Box.

The performance likely earned both horses a spot in the $1.25 million Travers Stakes here on Aug. 27.

Taking advantage of his inside draw and the fact he was the primary speed in the seven-horse field, John Velazquez sent Connect, the 8-5 second choice, to the front - while staying several paths off the rail - was able to set comfortable fractions and then turn back a challenge from Gift Box down the lane.

Gift Box, the even-money favorite who was forced to stay on the inside part of the track for most of the race under Javier Castellano, finished second by three lengths over a late-running Forever d’Oro.

It was 1 1/4 lengths back to Ready Dancer in fourth. He was followed, in order, by Dolphus, Majesto, and Swipe.

The win was the third in as many starts this year for Connect, appropriately enough a son of the Hall of Fame Thoroughbred Curlin for whom this race is named.

Connect, owned by Paul Pompa Jr., was off the Triple Crown trail early as he needed a flake removed from an ankle following a third in his debut last December at Aqueduct.

Connect won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race at Belmont Park on Kentucky Derby Day and a first-level allowance race at Belmont on Belmont Stakes Day. Both races were around one turn.

The Curlin was Connect’s first start at 1 1/8 miles and first around two turns.

Connect broke from the rail but Velazquez put him into the No. 3 path entering the first turn while opening up a one-length advantage through a quarter-mile in 24.06 seconds.

Velazquez kept Connect in the No. 4-path down the backside and clicked off fractions of 48.43 seconds for the half-mile and 1:12.41 for six furlongs.

“I wanted to be out there,” Velazquez said about staying off the rail. “It seems like every time you’re on the rail, all day long, they don’t finish really well. If you’re off the rail a little bit they seem to respond a little bit better.”

Velazquez indeed kept Connect well off the rail in the stretch and even when Gift Box, under Javier Castellano, came to him along the inside, Connect turned him back.

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Connect covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.69 and returned $5.50 as the second choice.

Castellano said he just “ran out of horse” on Gift Box, who was making his first start since May 26.

Brown was pleased with what he saw from both horses to point them to the Travers.

“I thought both horses were sitting on really good races,” Brown said. “I thought this race fit for both of them as a prep for the Travers. Gift Box was off a little bit of a longer layoff and found himself may be a little more intimidated on the inside but Connect prevailed. Both should go on to the Travers if they come out healthy.”