Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables’ Mind Control challenged Firenze Fire through every point of call and edged the 2-5 favorite for good in the final furlong, gaining the slight advantage from the outside and prevailing by a head to win the July 4 $250,000 John A. Nerud Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park.
The 11th running of the John A. Nerud, for 4-year-olds and up competing at seven furlongs on the main track, secured the 5-year-old Mind Control’s spot in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 6 at Del Mar as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier. It marked the Stay Thirsty son’s first win in nine starts dating to his score in the Tom Fool Stakes (G3) in March 2020 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Mind Control, breaking from post 2 under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, challenged Firenze Fire upfront, leading by a head with the opening quarter-mile in :23.05 seconds before Firenze Fire put his head in front with the half-mile in :46.03 over the fast track.
Rick Sacco leads Mind Control into the winner’s circle at Belmont Park
Firenze Fire, with Irad Ortiz Jr. up, continued to press the pace near the rail out of the turn, but the unrelenting Mind Control gamely fought on stride-for-stride from his immediate outside as the two were on even terms entering the final furlong.
Under Velazquez’s right-handed encouragement, Mind Control gained a fraction of separation and held on in the final jumps, hitting the wire in 1:21.94. Mind Control, making his first start since being transferred from the barn of Gregg Sacco to the care of Hall of Famer trainer Todd Pletcher, has now won a graded stakes at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5.
“It was a very good effort,” Pletcher said. “He came to us in very good condition and we’ve been pointing to this race since his arrival. It was great to see him break well. I knew when he got his head in front, he’s a fighter. It was a fun race to watch.
“We knew we needed to get away and we knew the favorite was going to have to establish some position from the rail, so we didn’t want to let him steal anything,” he added. “When he broke as alertly as he did, it put him in a really good spot.
Mind Control returns after winning the John A. Nerud Stakes at Belmont Park
Velazquez tallied his first win in the John A. Nerud. It also marked his first mount on Red Oak’s Kentucky homebred since running third in the Mr. Prospector Stakes (G3) in December at Gulfstream Park.
“I told Todd that if he broke well, I was going to use him to get into a good position,” Velazquez said. “I knew Irad had to be pushed coming out of there, and if someone else wanted to go crazy then I would sit off of them. I knew there was enough speed, so I used him well enough to put his head in front and then Irad come after me. It was a two-horse race. That’s the way it turned out, and my horse was better than the other one today.”
Off at 5-1, Mind Control returned $12.60 on a $2 win wager. He improved his career earnings to $1,259,229. Mind Control is a possibility for the $600,000 Forego Stakes (G1) on Travers Day, Aug. 28, at Saratoga Race Course as he targets a third seven-furlong grade 1 victory at the Spa after posting scores in the 2018 Hopeful and the 2019 H. Allen Jerkens.
“As well as he ran today, (he’ll need) a little bit of a freshening in-between,” Pletcher said. “I’ll talk to (Red Oak Stable racing manager) Rick Sacco and the team, but it seems like the Forego would make sense after today.”
Mind Control is out of the Lightin N Thunder stakes winner Feel That Fire, who is a half sister to grade 3-placed stakes winner King For a Day (by Uncle Mo ) and a full sister to stakes winner Ima Jersey Girl . The mare has a 2-year-old by Mineshaft filly named Goddess of Fire, who has not started yet, and a yearling filly by Candy Ride . She was bred to Uncle Mo for 2021 but no foal has been reported yet.
Firenze Fire, owned and bred by Mr Amore Stable, was 1 3/4 lengths clear of Three Technique for second. The 6-year-old Kelly Breen trainee by Poseidon’s Warrior entered off back-to-back wins in the Runhappy Stakes (G3) and True North Stakes (G2) and has now earned black type in his last six starts, all against graded stakes company.
“He ran hard,” Breen said. “Coming out of the one post might not have been the ideal spot. There’s still some moisture on the track. Not to come up with any excuses, the horse that beat us ran a great race. He came after us right out of the gate.
“Maybe the post position being down on the inside isn’t his favorite spot to be, but they were running,” Breen added. “It was a good race. I talked to Irad and he said, ‘I knew there was going to be a stretch duel.’ If he was on the outside, maybe it’s different, but they came after us. He ran tough in defeat.”
“He broke right beside me and I said it’s going to be a match race,” Ortiz said about the duel with Mind Control. “Unfortunately, we were inside today. I think if my horse was outside it would be better for me. But, no excuses.
Top Seed , Wicked Trick and American Power completed the order of finish. Doubly Blessed scratched.
Video: John A. Nerud S. (G2)