Saratoga Springs, NY
To borrow a line from the late, great Johnny Cash, Chris Connett has been everywhere, man.
In the 18 and a half years he has worked for the powerful global horse racing team of Godolphin, Connett has traveled the world in search of the biggest wins and purses the sport can offer.
He has spanned the globe, bringing horses to racing outposts in Australia, Dubai, Uruguay, the United Kingdom and, of course, the US That’s where Connett, the traveling assistant to Great Britain-based trainer Charlie Appleby, has found himself this summer.
“I have been fortunate to go all around the world with our horses, and, to be honest, Saratoga is my favorite,” Connett said Thursday morning, not long after the sun had risen. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m here. If I speak to anyone, anywhere, I always tell them they have to go to Saratoga.”
Connett has been here before. He said he spent three summers here, from 2005 to 2008, working for Godolphin trainers Rick Matties and Saeed bin Suroor.
“It’s a phenomenal place,” he said. “A lovely place to train race horses. It’s like going back to the 40s or 50s.”
After his audition for employment with the Saratoga Springs Chamber of Commerce was done, the 38-year-old Connett talked about why he is really here. Godolphin has two serious runners in the weekend grass stakes at Saratoga Race Course and Connett is more than confident the two Godolphin horses can put on a show.
Irish-breds Nations Pridea 3-year-old colt, duck With the Moonlighta 3-year-old filly, will carry the Godolphin blue colors this weekend.
Nations Pride runs in the $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational (G1) on Saturday; With the Moonlight goes in the $700,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational (G3) on Sunday.
Both ran credible races in the first race of their respective series. At Belmont Park last month, Nations Pride, the 2-1 favorite, got beat less than a length to the Kenny McPeek-trained Classic Causeway in the $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) at 1 1/4 miles. With the Moonlight had the lead in the stretch and couldn’t hold it, losing the Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1), also at 1 1/4 miles, to McKulick, from the son of Chad Brown.
The horses remained stateside after that and shipped to Saratoga where they have trained for the last five weeks. Connett joined them at the Spa after the horses were being handled by Sophie Chretien, a Godolphin assistant from Dubai, on Long Island.
Connett thinks with a tad better trip in the Belmont Derby, Nations Pride would have been in the winner’s circle.
“I think that is a fair comment,” Connett said. “I was watching it back home (Newmarket, England) and he looked like he was making a lovely smooth run coming into the home bend. Unfortunately, he met some traffic and it stopped his momentum. He still rallied really well and just didn’t quite get there, unfortunately.
“I would like to think that without that momentum check, he would have been right there,” he said. Hopefully, we get a clean run Saturday.”
William Buick will come across the pond to ride Nation’s Pride; he’ll stay to ride With the Moonlight on Sunday.
In the Belmont Oaks, With the Moonlight held the lead in the stretch before being run down. The Saratoga Oaks is a sixteenth of a mile shorter.
“She jumped really well at Belmont,” Connett said. “Dropping back a sixteenth, you like to think that will play into it. If the race at Belmont was a sixteenth of a mile shorter, I would like to think she would have won. She is in great shape right now. Both of them are.”