Jury Still Out on Kentucky Derby Hopeful Mind Control

Mind Control earned 10 qualifying points for the 2019 Kentucky Derby by winning the Jerome Stakes on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Making the Grade, which will run through the 2019 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.

This week we take a closer look at Mind Control, winner of the $150,900 Jerome Stakes on Jan. 1 at Aqueduct.

mind control

Bay Colt

Sire (Father): Stay Thirsty

Dam (Mother): Feel That Fire, by Lightnin N Thunder

Owners: Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables

Breeder: Red Oak Stable (Ky.)

Trainer: Gregory Sacco

After closing his 2-year-old season with an unplaced finish in the Grade 1 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Mind Control bounced back in his 2019 season debut with a 1 ½-length victory in the Jerome Stakes to earn his first 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard. Let’s take a closer looks at this promising Derby hopeful and assess his chances to make some noise on the Triple Crown trail.

Ability: Mind Control showed promise from the first jump when running second in his career debut in July at Delaware Park and earning a 96 Equibase Speed Figure. He followed with a victory in a maiden special weight race in August at Monmouth Park, where he raced near the pace and pulled away in the stretch to win by three lengths.

The bay Stay Thirsty colt confirmed his class in his third start in September when he led from start to finish to win the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga Race Course by three-quarters of a length. He was given a 94 Equibase Speed Figure for the win at seven-eighths of a mile.

The Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was Mind Control’s first try stretching out around two turns and also represented, by far, the best competition he had faced.

The result – a seventh-place finish, beaten by 18 ¼ lengths – was disappointing, but Mind Control did have a legitimate excuse. He bobbled and was squeezed back early. He looked like he did not like having dirt kicked in his face early on and appeared uncomfortable as he raced in 11th after the first half-mile and last of 13 after a three-quarters of a mile. After racing on or near the lead in each of his first three races, circumstances dictated that different tactics be used in the Breeders’ Cup and, to his credit, Mind Control did not quit and passed six horses late, three of which were fading after racing close to a taxing pace.

The 73 Equibase Speed Figure Mind Control earned in the Breeders’ Cup was the worst of his career.

Because of the way Mind Control’s 2-year-old season ended, his 3-year-old debut felt especially important, and he delivered.

Mind Control got off to a nice start and went right to the lead, setting a pressured pace through a fairly easy half-mile in :48.40. There were five horses with a serious chance entering the stretch, but Mind Control edged away to a clear lead in early stretch and held off runner-up Our Braintrust by 1 ½ lengths for the victory.

A better start and an easier pace – 1.53 seconds slower for the half mile, or about 7 ½ lengths slower than the Juvenile – helped Mind Control in the Jerome, but he faced steady pressure throughout the one-mile race and still kicked away to a convincing win.

Mind Control earned a career-best 101 Equibase Speed Figure for the Jerome win.

I would have loved to see Mind Control finish faster as the final quarter-mile in 25.28 seconds and half-mile in 50.66 seconds were not inspiring, especially in a one-mile race. It’s a cause for concern as the distances get longer on the Derby trail for a racehorse whose worst race to date came in his only try around two turns.

While it was nice to see Mind Control regain his winning form in the Jerome, he must get faster to compete with the elite runners of his generation, show he can finish better in races, and prove he can handle longer distances.

Running style: I did not like what I saw from Mind Control in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when he was forced out of his comfort zone and well off the pace. I’d guess trainer Greg Sacco’s decision to go back to John Velazquez had something to do with the tactics he wanted to employ moving forward. Velazquez was aboard Mind Control in the Hopeful and is a master at getting horses to relax on or near the lead.

“I wanted to put him in the race and make sure that I was in a good position where if someone was going crazy, I could just sit off the speed,” Velazquez said. “I broke well and got the position I wanted in the first part of the race.

“Down the lane, I remember from [the Hopeful] he opens up and he waits, so I waited until they came after him to get after him really hard and he responded really well.”

Mind Control and connections. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Connections: Trainer Greg Sacco and the Brunetti family’s Red Oak Stable have a long history together. Sacco learned his craft from his father, William Sacco, a longtime trainer on the New Jersey circuit who was a leading trainer at Monmouth Park. John Brunetti was a longtime client of the elder Sacco, who passed away in 2009. Brunetti died in 2018 and Red Oak is now overseen by his sons John and Steve. Other notable Red Oak Stable runners include multiple Grade 1 winner Sweet Return and Grade 1 winner Unbridled Mo, like Mind Control a homebred.

Madaket Stables is one of the racing operations operated by Sol Kumin, who purchased an interest in Mind Control before the Hopeful. Kumin enjoyed a banner year in 2018 as part-owner of Triple Crown winner Justify and de facto champion 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl among at least 10 individual Grade 1 winners in which he was a part-owner.

Greg Sacco started helping out at his father’s barn by age 8 and took out his trainer’s license in 1989. He has won 691 races through Jan. 1, including 32 stakes wins and three graded stakes victories. Neither Red Oak nor Sacco has had a Kentucky Derby starter.

John Velazquez is a two-time Eclipse Award winner who was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2012. A winner of more than 6,000 races, Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby in 2011 with Animal Kingdom and in 2017 on Always Dreaming. He also has won the Belmont Stakes twice.

Pedigree: Mind Control is from the third crop of 2011 Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty, who also ran second that year in the Belmont Stakes and was a Grade 1 winner at one mile as a 4-year-old. From a limited group of runners, multiple graded stakes winner Coal Front is the leading earner for Stay Thirsty to date. He is the sire of 10 stakes winners.

Stakes-winning sprinter Feel That Fire, by Lightnin N Thunder, is the dam (mother) of Mind Control.  Her full sister (same dam, same sire), Ima Jersey Girl, was a stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles.

Mind Control’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Ubetwereven, by French Deputy, was unraced as was his third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Raysor Lake, by Private Account. Other notable family members include Grade 1 winners Nine Keys and Silver Voice.

While Mind Control should get some stamina from Stay Thirsty, I am a little worried that the bottom half of this pedigree appears to tilt toward speed given how he finished in the Jerome.

The Jerome was a very nice start for Mind Control and there is plenty of time for him to improve and build a strong foundation, but right now it appears he has significant ground to make up on top 3-year-olds.

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