Connect, Gun Runner flatter sophomore division

Profile Picture: James Scully

November 29th, 2016

With impressive Grade 1 victories over elders on Thanksgiving weekend, Connect and Gun Runner provided a late-season boost to the 3-year-old male crop. And combined with the exploits of Arrogate, the narrative surrounding the 2016 sophomore set has improved significantly.

It didn’t look pretty in the aftermath of the Triple Crown.

Nyquist and Creator tailed off noticeably following triumphs in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1), losing subsequent starts by a combined 43 ½ lengths as they went 0-for-5. Exaggerator performed like gangbusters on wet tracks, sloshing his way to prestigious wins in the Preakness (G1), Haskell Invitational (G1) and Santa Anita Derby (G1), but proved to be the ultimate one-trick pony as he got drubbed in the Belmont Stakes (G1), Travers (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G2) on fast ovals, losing by a combined 59 lengths.

All three wound up being retired after a forgettable end to their racing career.

The top 3-year-old of 2016 didn’t make his career debut until April 17, finishing third in 6-furlong maiden special weight at Los Alamitos. A son of Unbridled’s Song, Arrogate recorded his first win when stretching out to two turns in his second outing June 5 and the Bob Baffert-trained colt has now captured five straight, establishing himself as the divisional leader with spectacular tallies in his first two stakes starts, the Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Amazingly, the late-blooming dynamo has never raced at 1 1/8 miles. After taking three straight at 1 1/16 miles, Arrogate registered eye-popping BRIS Speed ratings of 124 and 115 in the last two performances at 1 ¼ miles.

Connect and Gun Runner ran fast as well posting big wins last weekend, netting a 108 and 112 for respective tallies in the Cigar Mile (G1) and Clark H. (G1).

Connect is emerging as a star performer for Chad Brown. The Curlin colt didn’t break his maiden until his second start, and 2016 bow, in early May at Belmont and captured his stakes debut two starts later at Saratoga. A half-length scorer over Gun Runner in the Pennsylvania Derby two starts previously, Connect has won 3-of-4 stakes attempts, the lone setback coming against track record-setter Arrogate in the Travers.

Gun Runner is the only member of the group with Triple Crown experience, finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, and the Candy Ride colt is discovering his best form presently. After finishing second in the Pennsylvania Derby and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), Gun Runner put it all together with a 2 ¾-length romp in the Clark at Churchill Downs.

“He deserved it,” trainer Steve Asmussen said of Gun Runner’s first Grade 1 win. “With all the Grade 1 winners he has beaten and for this to be his first Grade 1, I feel very confident it will not be his last.”

The 3-year-old division has come on strong at the end of 2016.

Connect photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese/Gun Runner (second image) from Coady Photography