November 27, 2021

Firenze Fire aims to stay hot in John A. Nerud

Firenze Fire
Firenze Fire and jockey Jose Ortiz win the True North Stakes (Jessie Holmes/EquiSport)

Belmont Park celebrates the Fourth of July with a pair of stakes on Sunday’s card, anchored by the $250,000 John A. Nerud S. (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).

John A. Nerud S. (G2) – Race 10 (5:44 p.m. ET)

Firenze Fire aims to continue his profile as a “horse for the course” in the seven-furlong Nerud. Fresh off back-to-back scores in the May 8 Runhappy S. (G3) and June 4 True North S. (G2), the $2.4-million earner sports a 10-7-1-0 mark at Belmont. All seven of his local wins have come in stakes, including the 2017 Champagne S. (G1), 2018 Dwyer S. (G3), and 2020 Vosburgh S. (G2) along with two runnings of the Runhappy and his True North title defense.

“I think he’s at the top of his game at the moment,” said owner/breeder Ron Lombardi, who campaigns Firenze Fire in the name of his Mr Amore Stable. “He’s always had the M.O. where he comes out of the race unbelievably. After a race he’s eating, perky and he doesn’t miss a beat. The next morning he’s ready to go. Typically horses of his caliber wait more than four weeks, but he recovered so greatly.

“He didn’t miss a beat, but he did take some time off in the winter. He has two stakes under his belt so far this year and it will be his fifth year in a row going to the Breeders’ Cup.”

Firenze Fire, whose best Breeders’ Cup result was a third in last year’s Sprint, will break from the rail on Sunday. Irad Ortiz regains the mount aboard the Kelly Breen trainee.

Right next door in post 2 is fellow Grade 1 veteran Mind Control, a millionaire who hopes to snap a losing streak by switching to Todd Pletcher. Formerly with Gregory Sacco, the Red Oak Stable homebred has not won since the Tom Fool H. (G3) in March 2020. But the millionaire has back class as the winner of the 2018 Hopeful S. (G1) and 2019 H. Allen Jerkens S. (G1) – both at this trip at Saratoga. Two starts back, Mind Control was best of the rest behind Mischevious Alex in the Carter H. (G1).

“We went through a few races where he didn’t win, and we knew there were no races for him at Monmouth,” said Rick Sacco, Red Oak’s racing manager.

“We just thought it was a change of scenery that would do him some good. Todd is on our team, and he has horses for us. My brother Greg won him a couple of Grade 1 races and did a fantastic job, but we figured we would change things up, send the horse over to Todd and try to win a race with him. It’s a hard lens to look through to move a horse. We’re just trying to get him back on track. He’s sound and training super.”

Mind Control, co-owned by Madaket Stables, will be ridden by John Velazquez.

Top Seed and Three Technique were second and third, respectively, to unbeaten Happy Saver in a one-mile allowance over the track. Also renewing rivalry are the third and fourth from the True North, American Power and Wicked Trick. American Power had taken the Toboggan S. (G3) over the winter, while Wicked Trick was runner-up in the Westchester S. (G3) two back. Doubly Blessed steps up in class from an allowance score for Mike Maker.

Manila S. – Race 9 (5:12 p.m. ET)

Turf sophomores will travel a mile on the Widener course in the $100,000 Manila S., and the ubiquitous Chad Brown sends out Public Sector. A fine second in last fall’s Pilgrim S. (G2) before a troubled 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), the Kingman colt just captured a course-and-distance allowance.

Annex started his career with a three-race winning streak at Gulfstream Park, notably getting up in time in the Palm Beach S. and Cutler Bay S., but he’s had a tougher time since leaving Florida. The Bill Mott pupil was eighth in the American Turf (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day and a toss-out fourth in the off-the-turf Penn Mile (G3).

Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) winner Like the King, fifth in the Audubon S. last out at Churchill Downs, is cross-entered to Saturday’s Kent S. (G3) at Delaware Park. Note that no rider is listed at Delaware, but trainer Wesley Ward has named Velazquez here.

Firenze Fire’s connections try to kick off a stakes double with It’s a Gamble, who landed the off-the-turf Jersey Derby. The son of English Channel is logically effective on turf too, with a prior second to well-regarded Hard Love in the Woodhaven S. at Aqueduct.

The consistent Original has finished third in three straight – the Kitten’s Joy S. (G3), Woodhaven, and Public Sector’s allowance. He figures to have pace company in the form of the Christophe Clement-trained Straw into Gold, wire-to-wire winner of a New York-bred allowance in his latest. Hot Blooded has failed to hit the board since taking last summer’s Proud Man S. at Gulfstream.

Ridin with Biden could make his turf debut here, but trainer Butch Reid indicated that he has the alternative of staying on dirt for Monday’s Dwyer S. (G3).

“He’s a horse we’ve been high on all along,” Reid said of the Constitution colt who’s won two straight at his Parx base. “He just has some personal quirks that worked against him. It seems like he is maturing. He seems to have calmed down and has a good head on his shoulders.”