The fields for the 14 races that comprise the Breeders’ Cup World Championships begin to really come into focus in late summer and early fall.
The “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series offers the winners of specific individual races an expenses-paid starting spot for corresponding Breeders’ Cup races. On Sept. 18 at Churchill Downs, Hidden Connection delivered one of the best races we’ve seen from a 2-year-old filly this year when she powered to a 9 ¼-length romp in the $300,000 Pocahontas Stakes to earn an expenses-paid berth for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Nov. 5 at Del Mar.
Now 2-for-2 in her career, Hidden Connection profiles as one of the probable favorites for the Juvenile Filles, so let’s take a closer look at this exciting Breeders’ Cup prospect.
The dark bay or brown filly from the first crop of Grade 1 winner Connect stalked the pace from third in an eight-horse field and proved much the best in the stretch as she pulled away to win by 7 ½ lengths.
Hidden Connection earned an 82 Equibase Speed Figure and, even more promising, an 84 Beyer Speed Figure for the debut win. Following her impressive victory, Black Type Thoroughbreds purchased an interest in Hidden Connection.
Trainer Bret Calhoun challenged Hidden Connection in several ways in her second start.
First, she was entered in a stakes race for the first time in the Grade 3 Pocahontas Stakes. With 10 starters, the race was a major step up in terms of quality of competition. She also was being asked to stretch out in distance from her 5 ½-furlong debut to 1 1/16 miles while navigating two turns at Churchill Downs. One-turn sprints are a completely different ballgame compared with a race around two turns and the extra three-eighths of a mile is a significant amount of additional distance.
The 9-2 second choice on the morning line, Hidden Connections was bet down to 9-5 favoritism by the time the starting gates opened for the Pocahontas and lived up to lofty expectations.
Hidden Connection was wide entering the first turn but she was aggressive under jockey Reylu Gutierrez and secured a terrific position tucked in behind pacesetter Lemieux through a half-mile in :48.62. She took command when given her cue by Gutierrez on the final turn, put away Majestic d’Oro after a brief challenge, and simply dominated again in surging to a 9 ¼-length romp.
Hidden Connection improved her Equibase Speed Figure to a 90 and her Beyer Speed Figure to an 87, a promising result given the added distance and higher talent level in the Pocahontas.
Calhoun said he thought early on Hidden Connection had a chance to be a very nice filly: “She was working at Keeneland this spring before we went to Colonial. When she was working there, I thought she could be special. Then we went to Colonial and she won so impressively on debut. She didn’t have as much experience as some of the horses in [the Pocahontas] but she backed up that win very well. If she comes out of things OK, you’d have to think she’s on to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Considering the Pocahontas was the first graded stakes for 2-year-old fillies on the dirt around two turns, Hidden Connection must be considered a serious contender for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Likewise, she finished the final five-sixteenths of a mile in 30.51 seconds with a final sixteenth in an eye-catching 6.22 seconds.
Hidden Connection has the cruising speed to position herself ideally in the early stages of her races and enough stamina to still finish powerfully. That’s a potent combination for a 2-year-old filly. She should be tough in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies Nov. 5 at Del Mar.
Hidden Connection is from the first crop of lightly raced Connect, a Grade 1 winner by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. Connect won six of eight career starts, including the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby and the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap against older horses during his 3-year-old season in 2016.
C J’s Gal, by Awesome Again, is the dam (mother) of Hidden Connection. She was unplaced in one start in 2015 but has produced two winners from as many starters.
Hidden Connection’s grandam (maternal grandmother) is C J’s Leelee, by Mizzen Mast, who won two of seven starts and finished second as a 2-year-old in the Grade 3 Golden Rod Stakes on the dirt and second as a 3-year-old in the Grade 3 Regret Stakes on turf. Both stakes placings came in races around two turns. C J’s Leelee is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to Grade 1 winner Capo Bastone.
Based on how she ran in the Pocahontas at the same 1 1/16-mile distance she’ll try at Del Mar, I have no doubt Hidden Connection can excel in the Juvenile Fillies.