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 $250,000 John A. Nerud Stakes July 4 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 Nov. 6 at Del Mar as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier. It marked the Stay Thirsty horse’s first win in nine starts dating to his score in the Tom Fool Handicap in March 2020 at Aqueduct.
Mind Control, breaking from post-position No. 2 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, challenged Firenze Fire up front, leading by a head through an opening quarter-mile in :23.05 before Firenze Fire put his head in front through a half-mile in :46.03 on a track rated fast.
Firenze Fire, with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, 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 encouragement, Mind Control gained a fraction of separation and held on in the final strides of the Grade 2 race, crossing the finish line 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.”
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 Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Stakes 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 5.30-1, Mind Control returned $12.60 on a $2 win wager. He improved his career earnings to $1,259,229. Mind Control is possible for the $600,000 Forego Stakes on Runhappy Travers Stakes day at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 28 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 Stakes.
“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 stakes-winning Lightin N Thunder mare 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 .
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 entered off back-to-back wins in the Grade 3 Runhappy Stakes and Grade 2 True North Stakes 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.”