Heavy favorites went down to narrow defeats in both stakes races at Belmont Park on Sunday. The common denominator was enterprising rides aboard the winners. Mind Control employed more aggressive tactics to prevail over the 2-5 Firenze Fire in the $250,000 John A. Nerud S. (G2), while Original foiled the even-money Public Sector thanks to a soft lead in the $100,000 Manila S.
John A. Nerud S. (G2)
Making his first start since switching to incoming Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, Mind Control ended an eight-race losing skid and earned a free ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). The 5.30-1 second choice took it to Firenze Fire right out of the gate, and the two Grade 1 veterans turned the “Win and You’re In” into a virtual match race.
Mind Control, who broke from post 2 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez, thrust his head in front of the rail-drawn Firenze Fire through the opening quarter in :23.05. The favorite counterpunched at the half in :46.03, but Mind Control headed him again as they grappled down the stretch.
Although Firenze Fire kept trying on the inside, Mind Control would not be denied. The Kentucky-bred bay edged clear by a head while finishing seven furlongs in 1:21.94.
Three Technique checked in another 1 3/4 lengths back in third, followed by Top Seed, Wicked Trick, and American Power, who tried to go with the top two early but soon retreated. Doubly Blessed was a vet scratch.
Firenze Fire’s connections believed his rail position made it tougher on the favorite.
“He (Mind Control) broke right beside me and I said it’s going to be a match race,” jockey Irad Ortiz said. “Unfortunately, we were inside today. I think if my horse was outside it would be better for me. But, no excuses.
“I tried to go as easy as I can. I looked and I had horses outside me, so I had no chance to get out of there. He ran good. It was a great effort and he kept fighting all the way down the stretch all the way to the wire.”
“He ran hard,” trainer Kelly Breen said of Firenze Fire. “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.”
Velazquez executed his game plan to perfection:
“I told Todd that if he broke well, I was going to use him to get into a good position. 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.”
“It was a very good effort,” Pletcher said. “He came to us in very good condition (from original trainer Greg Sacco) 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. When he broke as alertly as he did, it put him in a really good spot.”
A Red Oak Stable homebred campaigned in partnership with Madaket Stables, Mind Control has compiled a record of 21-8-3-4, $1,259,229. His two biggest wins came over seven furlongs at Saratoga – the 2018 Hopeful S. (G1) and 2019 H. Allen Jerkens S. (G1) – so Pletcher named the Aug. 28 Forego S. (G1) at that track and trip as a likely target.
Mind Control also captured the 2019 Jerome S. and Bay Shore S. (G3) as well as the 2020 Toboggan S. (G3) and Tom Fool H. (G3), his last win until Sunday. He has placed in six stakes, most notably last summer’s Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) and the April 3 Carter H. (G1). The five-year-old was coming off a seventh in the Churchill Downs S. (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day.
The son of Stay Thirsty was produced by the stakes-winning Feel That Fire, a full sister to New Jersey-bred stakes scorer Ima Jersey Girl. The Lightnin N Thunder mare is also a half-sister to Grade 3-placed multiple stakes victor King for a Day, who was also trained by Pletcher for Red Oak.
Eric Fein’s Original had tired to third behind Public Sector in a June 4 allowance over this same mile on the Widener turf. Two key factors were different in their Manila rematch: Original had gone faster early on a yielding course last time, but got away with a much slower pace on good ground here.
The John Terranova sophomore secured an uncontested lead through an opening quarter in :24.85, as projected pace rival Straw into Gold was content to rate. Jockey Luis Saez then nursed Original along through fractions of :50.30 and 1:14.55, and the 6.90-1 shot had plenty left for the sprint for home.
Public Sector, reserved in fifth of six early, unleashed a terrific charge (with a final quarter in :22.79 according to Trakus) and nearly overcame the race shape. But Original had done just enough to hang on by a head.
Straw into Gold stayed on for third, another 1 1/2 lengths back, prompting the what-if about his tactics. It’s a Gamble, who tracked the leader, was outpaced in fourth. Annex was unable to land a blow as a deep closer, and Hot Blooded trailed in last. Like the King was scratched after placing second in Saturday’s Kent S. (G3), and Ridin with Biden opted to run in Monday’s Dwyer S. (G3).
“I knew we were going easy,” Terranova said. “The fractions were slow but the turf is very soft, so I didn’t expect too fast fractions. They let him out there easy. The only thing we talked to Luis about was if they came to us at the quarter-pole, to kick away a little, because they’re going to be kicking down the stretch. We wanted to get a little clear from there, which he did, and it worked out beautiful.”
Clocking the mile in 1:37.75 to record his first stakes win, Original paid $15.80 and improved his resume to 7-2-0-3, $138,750. The bay was previously third in the Kitten’s Joy S. (G3) and Woodhaven S.
Original was bred by Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and twice sold at auction. The $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling later commanded $425,000 as an OBS Spring juvenile.
By Quality Road and out of the Empire Maker mare Unforgettable, Original hails from the family of Grade 1 winners Golden Ticket, Well Chosen, Telling, and Leofric. This is the line descending from Sin Igual, a full sister to 1946 Triple Crown star Assault, and further back, to Masda, full sister to the great Man o’ War.