“Very athletic-looking” with a nice pedigree was how agent Chris Brothers, who represents Paul Pompa Jr. at most sales, described the yearling Connect at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton July Sale of Selected Yearlings.
Known only as Hip 117 at the time, a dark bay or brown colt consigned by VanMeter Sales who Brothers had short-listed for Pompa. On July 14, the Curlin yearling out of Holy Bull mare Bullville Belle, walked into the Fasig-Tipton sales ring, pricked his ears as he studied the crowd, and walked out belonging to Pompa for $150,000.
Later named Connect, the colt broke his maiden by four lengths in May of last year at Belmont Park for trainer Chad Brown. After an allowance victory at Belmont on June 11 of his three-year-old season, Connect shipped north to Saratoga to run in a race named after his prolific sire: the Curlin Stakes. Not only did the gate-to-wire victory and the significance of the race’s name provide a thrill for Pompa, but the performance was telling of what was to come later that fall and into the following year.
“This might be the second best horse I’ve ever owned,” said Pompa – who also owned dual classic winner and Fasig-Tipton-sold yearling Big Brown – to The Saratoga Special after Connect’s win in the Curlin. “Early in the year, Chad had talked about timing it for this, because he knew this horse was special, we wanted to use this to get a race over the track, let’s hope that we show up for the Travers.”
In hindsight, Pompa echoed those sentiments during a recent phone conversation about Connect.
“I think the Curlin was a nice win because it was his first stakes try, up at Saratoga, and the race he won was named after his father, Curlin,” Pompa said, citing the race as his favorite victory of Connect’s. “And then the [Grade 2] Pennsylvania Derby, and then obviously the Grade 1 Cigar Mile.”
One month after his length victory in the Curlin, Connect contended the Travers (G1), running into Arrogate, who broke the 147-year-old track record, and finishing sixth. But having already proved himself, it was no secret that Connect was a viable contender for the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Parx. Running mid-pack and making a ground-covering move along the inside rail as the field galloped around the far turn, Connect dug in and fought off recent Stephen Foster H. (G1) winner Gun Runner in the stretch to win by a half-length.
Connect went on to contest the Cigar Mile (G1). He ran from off the pace, grinding down the stretch alongside Divining Rod, who matched his stride until Connect extended himself to win by a head and become a millionaire.
“When you’re an owner, and you have the horse in any kind of race and you’re a big favorite, then there’s more pressure on you,” Pompa said. “He was a big favorite in the Cigar Mile, so we knew he belonged there. And then for him to perform and to win was extremely satisfying.”
After five months off, Connect came back to the races as a four-year-old in the one mile Westchester (G3) at Belmont Park in May, leaving the field behind in a 4 ¾-length victory.
There’s something to be said about buying a yearling and watching it transform into an excelling athlete. Pompa describes it well through the process he has observed in Connect’s career so far.
“You know they’re very young, they’re yearlings, so everything has to fall together the right way,” Pompa said about searching out potential at yearling sales. “I’ve been doing this for 17 years now, so I’ve had some big horses… it is very exciting, especially when it works out.”
And for Connect, it has obviously worked out.
The 2017 July Sale will be held Tuesday, July 11 at 10 AM. The catalogue is available online at www.fasigtipton.com.