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Connect by a head over Divining Rod in Big A’s Cigar Mile

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NEW YORK (AP) Connect beat Divining Rod by a head at the end of a stretch duel Saturday in the $500,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

A late developing 3-year-old facing older horses for the first time in a stakes race, Connect won for the fifth time in six starts this season. Ridden by Javier Castellano and trained by Chad Brown, the Pennsylvania Derby winner was part of a four-horse battle turning for home. It turned into a two-horse contest as Connect and Divining Rod pulled away from the pack in the final furlong.

Divining Rod held the slightest advantage until Connect pushed on in the final strides.

“It was an exciting race,” Brown said. “This is such a nice horse. Javier really rode him good. He had to move a little earlier than he wanted and he got a bit of a wide trip, but he knew how to time it just right.”

It was the first race for Connect since the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 24. Brown opted to give the colt a break after that race.

“There is always a risk doing that,” Brown said. “He could be a little short, but he had just enough today and got it done at a mile.”

Arnaud Delacour, Divining Rod’s trainer, took the tough-luck defeat in stride.

“I thought it was a great stretch run from both horses,” he said. “I think Connect is a great horse, so I’m thrilled.”

Connect paid $5, $3.30 and $2.80 as the 3-2 favorite.

Divining Rod returned $5.10 and $4.90 and Realm paid $7 to show.

The time was 1:35.34 in the final Grade 1 stakes of the year in New York

Connect earned $300,000 for the win, lifting his career earnings to $1.25 million for owner Paul Pompa Jr.

On the undercard, Mo Town stepped up from his maiden win to take $300,000 Remsen Stakes for 2-year-olds.

With the victory, he also moved into next year’s Triple Crown picture.

The son of Uncle Mo is 2 for 3 for trainer Tony Dutrow. The latest was a very professional effort by an inexperienced colt.

After Takaful, the 4-5 favorite, opened a big lead down the backstretch, jockey John Velazquez and Mo Town made a decisive move from fourth into second, narrowing the gap right behind the leader.

Mo Town took over from Takaful in the final eighth of a mile and pulled clear to a 2 1/2 length score over No Dozing. Takaful was third.

Mo Town paid $10.40 to win.

– Paco Lopez rode a pair of upset stakes winners.

He rallied Verve’s Tale rallied past 3-5 favorite Lewis Bay for a 20-1 upset in the $250,000 Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

After losing her first seven races, Verve’s Tale has now won two straight. She prevailed by a neck, paying $43.60 to win for trainer Barclay Tagg.

Lopez reversed tactics in the $300,000 Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies, posting a front-running victory aboard 5-1 shot Miss Sky Warrior.

She held off Jamyson `n Ginger, the 9-5 choice, by a half-length. It was her third straight win for trainer Kelly Breen.

Miss Sky Warrior paid $13.20 to win.

Renowned jockey Jose Flores dies in racing accident

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) A renowned jockey who was among the best in Pennsylvania history died Thursday of injuries suffered in a racing accident.

Parx Racing announced the death of Jose Flores, 56, who was racing Monday at the suburban Philadelphia track when his horse went down and Flores was thrown off. The jockey hit the ground headfirst and suffered a massive trauma.

He was removed from life support Thursday afternoon.

Flores won 4,650 races in a career that spanned more than three decades. He was the top career earner at Parx, formerly known as Philadelphia Park.

“It’s unbelievable, just sickening,” Scott Lake, the top trainer at Parx, who has known Flores since 1991, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “He was just tremendous, a nice guy, always a professional.”

Flores’ mounts earned $64 million in nearly 29,000 career starts, according to the Equibase thoroughbred database.

Parx called Flores an “outstanding jockey” and expressed condolences to his family.

The Jockeys’ Guild said Flores is the 157th jockey to die in a racing accident in unofficial records going back to 1940. The group said that before Flores, it had no record of a jockey ever being killed in an accident at a Pennsylvania track.

Native River gets wire-to-wire win in Cheltenham Gold Cup

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Native River delivered an exhibition in front-running to outlast favorite Might Bite in a thrilling duel to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Britain’s most prestigious jumps race, on Friday.

Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, 5-1 shot Native River took the lead right from the start and was never passed in the race over 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs in front of a crowd of 70,000.

After they jumped the last fence, Native River and Might Bite were neck and neck, but Johnson got a kick out of the Colin Tizzard-trained horse on the uphill finish and Native River won by 4 1/2 lengths – a year after finishing third in the race.

For Johnson, it was a second victory in the Gold Cup – 18 years after his first on Looks Like Trouble.

“It’s been a long 18 years,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I was a passenger.

“The more I asked from him, the better he jumped.”

Might Bite’s handler, Nicky Henderson, was looking to become the first trainer to capture the Cheltenham Festival’s three signature races in the same year – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup.

It was Might Bite’s first defeat over fences, and Henderson said the heavy going didn’t do the horse any favors – especially against a rival who is a past winner of the Welsh National and the Hennessy Gold Cup

“It was the right thing to track Native River because no other horse got into the race, he had to be in the right place,” Henderson said of the 4-1 favorite.

“On better ground, stamina wouldn’t have been an issue. But in that ground you have to work so much harder. The winner is a Welsh National winner and the reason I’ve never won that race is because I can’t find horses that go in that ground.”

Native River won his owners 369,822 pounds ($515,000).

Anibale Fly, a 33-1 shot, was third.