Fast-Rising Filly Hidden Connection Brings Trainer Calhoun, Young Jockey Gutierrez to the Breeders’ Cup Spotlight

Hidden Connection, with Reylu Gutierrez riding, won the Pocahontas Stakes Sept. 18 at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths to earn an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Thoroughbred racing, like so many endeavors, is all about opportunity.

beginner Takeaways

Hidden Connection wowed trainer Bret Calhoun when he spotted her at a 2-year-old auction last spring, but he didn’t have the budget to purchase her. The filly was bought at another auction in June by Hidden Brook Farm, who fortunately sent her to Calhoun to prepare for a racing career.

The filly won her first race at Colonial Downs in Virginia impressively, competing at a level below the top-tier racetracks. Her connections were confident enough to test her in a stakes race at historic Churchill Downs in September, and she romped by over nine lengths.

Now Hidden Connection will face an even greater test in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. She will be ridden by young jockey Reylu Gutierrez, who was aboard her two prior wins and is making his debut in the World Championships.

Trainer W. Bret Calhoun thought he might have missed an opportunity, Dan Hall seized one on behalf of Hidden Brook Farm and young jockey Reylu Gutierrez is hungry to capitalize on his big chance. All of those scenarios involve Hidden Connection, a contender in the $1 million NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on “Future Stars Friday” at Del Mar.

Some explanation is in order. When Calhoun attended the Ocala Breeders’ Sale of 2-year-olds in training this past April, he found himself drawn to hip number 633, a daughter of Connect. He thought she might be a perfect fit for a client that had a relatively small budget.

“Everything was there,” Calhoun said of the filly. “She was just small and immature.”

By the time the prospect entered the sales ring, Calhoun’s enthusiasm for her had not diminished but his resources had. Other spending rendered him helpless as she failed to meet a modest reserve of $55,000. He quickly turned the page.

“You pass on a lot of bad ones and you are going to pass on some good ones,” the veteran trainer said. “I usually don’t ever look back much.”

The daughter of Connect made a better appearance when Hall eyeballed her as hip 204 at the OBS June Sale. He was particularly impressed when he watched her breeze a quarter of a mile in 21 2/5 seconds.

“It was the way she did it and, most importantly, it was her gallop out that caught our eye,” Hall said. “She made our first cut there and then at the barn I liked her. The rest is history.”

Hall gladly brought home Hidden Connection for $85,000 and soon assigned her to Calhoun to train. A few conversations later, he realized that the new filly in the barn was the one he was forced to pass on in April.

“Maybe it was just meant for me to get her,” Calhoun said.

Hidden Connection, Calhoun and Gutierrez soon formed a dynamic combination. “Once we started putting her in a breeze pattern and started working her in company, her talent level showed up immediately,” the trainer said.

She opened other eyes when she debuted in style on Aug. 17 at Colonial Downs, drawing off by 7 ½ lengths in the 5 ½-furlong contest for Gutierrez and convincing Black Type Thoroughbreds to partner with Hidden Brook. Then came the acid test, the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 Pocahontas Stakes on Sept. 18 at Churchill Downs. Was that a leap too far?

“They’re worlds apart,” Calhoun said of the two races. “But we had been around the filly long enough to have a high opinion of her. We always felt she wanted to go farther. The best part of her works were the finishes and the gallop outs, so we didn’t think distance would be an issue. We thought it might be better for her. With that being said, you don’t really know.”

Gutierrez celebrates. (Coady Photography)

Hidden Connection emphatically answered the question, roaring off by 9 ¼ lengths and thrilling Gutierrez with every stride. “She displays a great amount of tactical speed, but she can sustain it,” he said. “It’s something you just don’t really see in a lot of horses. A lot horses can go fast for half a mile.”

Calhoun welcomes the significant amount of time between the Pocahontas and the Breeders’ Cup. “It was perfect for her because she has run two fast races,” he said. “The other thing is she’s a little bit of a light-bodied filly, so I thought the spacing would help her a lot. I feel better about the spacing as opposed to having less time.”

The Juvenile Fillies will be a world apart from the Pocahontas. Three-for-three Echo Zulu, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, is a deserving 4-5 favorite after romping by 7 ¼ lengths in the Oct. 3 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park. Hidden Connection and Brad Cox-trained JuJu’s Map, an authoritative 4 ¼-length winner of the Oct. 8 Darley Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland, share second billing at 5-2.

“We know we have a nice filly, a very good filly,” Hall said. “How she stacks up against the rest of her peers, if everything goes fair for everybody, we’re getting ready to find out.”

The connections never wavered in their commitment to Gutierrez, an Eclipse Award finalist as the outstanding apprentice only three years ago.

“I thought he deserved to ride in the Breeders’ Cup. I have nothing but confidence in him and his decision-making,” Calhoun said. “I had some offers from some other top riders to ride her. I discussed it with ownership and they felt the way I did.”

The stakes are incredibly high. Hidden Connection would surely secure an Eclipse Award by winning the Juvenile Fillies. For Gutierrez, it would mean everything to him if he can shine on the grand international stage of the Breeders’ Cup.

“Any race of this magnitude can really push you to the next level,” he said, grateful for his opportunity.

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