Hail the conquering hero Mind Control, who left his weekend guest accommodations in John Kimmel's barn just before 9 a.m. after pulling off the upset in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes presented by Runhappy and en route to his home at Monmouth Park.
“My staff tacked up the barn and everyone is really excited. We're all here waiting for him to get off the van,” said Gregg Sacco, who trains the now dual Grade 1 winning Mind Control for breeder and co-owners Red Oak Stable and Sol Kumin's Madaket Stables. “My guys told me that he ate up everything and was just great. He had a good, clean scope and everything is good with him.”
Sacco drove back to New Jersey after the races as he had a busy morning to attend to at the track he has called home all his life, but he wasn't road weary.
“The drive home was pretty good. When you win at Saratoga the miles just fly by,” said Sacco, a third-generation horseman who took over the family stable at Monmouth after his father passed away in 1988. “It was a pretty good day, obviously.”
The Jerkens marked the second appearance, and second long odds victory, at Saratoga for the son of 2011 Travers winner Stay Thirsty following his 2018 Grade 1 Hopeful score.
Both of those races were contested at 7 furlongs, which is clearly the colt's ideal distance. He is now 3-for-5 at 7 furlongs and might have been undefeated at that stanza had he not endured disastrous trips in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park in June and in the Grade 3 Concern at Laurel Park in July.
Looking down the road, the distance factor raises the Breeders' Cup question, as the $2 million Sprint is run at 6 furlongs and the $1 million Dirt Mile is contested at 8 furlongs.
“We never look ahead. We're going to savor this,” said Sacco, whose brother, Rick is the Red Oak general manager for the Brunetti family. “I'm going to sit down with my brother, Steve Brunetti and Sol Kumin and we're going to make a decision in the next 10 days to two weeks. There are some things we'll discuss and nothing is set in concrete. He has been training for a long time, he's never been taken out of training, so we might go easy with him.”
Nonetheless, the connections could be making reservations for a Christmas trip to Southern California. The Grade 1, seven-furlong Malibu is a sprinter's major resume-builder and it will be run on December 26 at Santa Anita.
“I will tell you that one of the main goals at the end of the year is the Malibu. That's a long range goal,” said the trainer.
Meanwhile, Sacco was still savoring the performances of his charge and Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez on Saturday that resulted in a three-way head bob at the wire among 1-2 favorite Shancelot and Woody Stephens winner Hog Creek Hustle. At the head of the lane Shancelot was 2 ½ lengths in front while Mind Control was racing in fourth and Hog Creek Hustle was farther behind. Then, both Mind Control and Hog Creek Hustle came flying.
“It was a picture-perfect ride by Johnny, everything worked out, and thank God we got up. It was a heads-up, savvy ride. When Shancelot got away with that twenty-three and change (23.11) first quarter, I thought, 'Wow. He's going to be really tough to reel in by anybody.' It was a great race and they were noses apart at the wire so it was so exciting to watch. Johnny was going to go after him on the turn but then he just bided his time, and we needed everything. Fortunately for us, he really kicked in that last eighth of a mile,” said Sacco, who was relieved when Mind Control broke cleanly.
“That was what I was hoping for because we didn't break clean in the Woody. Breaking has been a little bit of the key to him because he gets a little antsy in the gate. A couple of times (in the past) even when he breaks well there's been a split second before that when he was acting up. After the break, we got a fair shot,” Sacco explained. “But it did scare me a little bit because I thought that was a pretty easy quarter for a horse like Shancelot. It was a great race. Shancelot ran his heart out. Hog Creek Hustle ran back to his Woody Stephens' performance and we ran our race. It could have been any one of the three. We were fortunate to get the bob.”
Sacco, a longtime multiple graded stakes winning trainer, now has two Grade 1 wins on his sheet, both courtesy of Mind Control.
“This is even better than last year [winning the Hopeful]. Other horses don't improve from two to three and this horse did. There's a lot to look forward to with him,” he said.
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