A three-horse photo finish in the 127th edition of Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Toboggan went to dual Grade 1-winner Mind Control as he made his 2020 debut a winning one in holding off a late charge from graded stakes winners Nicodemus and Sunny Ridge in the Aqueduct Racetrack stretch.
The seven-furlong event over the main track was contested under cloudy skies and light snowfall, but the brisk weather conditions didn't deter Mind Control, who was making his first start since a triumph in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens on August 24 at Saratoga Race Course.
Guided by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez from the outside post, the 4-year-old son of Stay Thirsty sat just off the flank of 2018 Grade 2 Woody Stephens winner Still Having Fun, who commanded a tightly-packed group of seven through an opening quarter-mile in 23.64 seconds.
With the half-mile in 46.76 seconds, Mind Control inched his way up to even terms with the pacesetter and was under a drive by Velazquez at the top of the stretch trying to get past a stubborn Still Having Fun. Past the eighth pole, Mind Control took clear command with Nicodemus and Sunny Ridge in pursuit to the far outside. The trio hit the wire in near-unison, with Mind Control winning the head bob edging Nicodemus, who was another nose to the better of Sunny Ridge. American Anthem, who finished fourth, bumped with Mind Control when leaving the rail to split rivals in deep stretch with a stewards' inquiry allowing the result to stand.
Mind Control completed the seven-furlong journey in a time of 1:24.23 over a main track rated fast.
Completing the order of finish were Still Having Fun, T Loves a Fight and Bon Raison.
Trained by Gregg Sacco and owned by Steven Brunetti's Red Oak Stable in partnership with Sol Kumin and Jason Monteleone's Madaket Stable, Mind Control racked up a fourth graded stakes victory, all of which took place on the NYRA circuit. As a 2-year-old, he won the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga and he took the Grade 3 Bay Shore at the Big A during his sophomore campaign, three starts before winning the H. Allen Jerkens.
“From a trainer's standpoint, if you have the right horse, you expect them to be ready. If we did our job, we expected Mind Control to win today. He was coming off the layoff, but he was ready to run,” Sacco said. “He ran to his training and showed the true guts and determination he shows in all of his races. I wish he wouldn't wait on horses, but that being said, you never know how they will perform, but he trained great. The word I used to describe him last year still stands: genuine. He's a genuine horse and we are really happy he came back the way he did.”
Velazquez said that Mind Control starting idling once he established a clear lead, but regained his focus once Nicodemus and Sunny Ridge started closing in.
“He's such a nice horse. He lets you do whatever you want with him. The only thing; he started to wait on the horses coming down the stretch, and I had to get him focused again to pay attention,” Velazquez said. “I had to hit him left-handed, but I also didn't want to foul anyone and at the same time I wanted him to see the horses to his outside. Once he did, he got competitive right away.”
Sacco said Mind Control could target the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap next on April 4 at Aqueduct.
“It's great to see him back. It's a great weekend for our barn,” said Sacco, who saddled Belmont Stakes third-place finisher Joevia to a comeback victory on Friday afternoon. “We just couldn't be happier for Steve Brunetti [of co-owner Red Oak Stable] and my brother Rick, who did a great job managing our colt to get him to his 4-year-old campaign. It's an exciting time ahead. We'll map out a plan and we'll pencil in the [Grade 1] Carter [April 4] and might just wait for that. He runs well fresh.”
The last horse to pull off a Toboggan-Carter double was Green Gratto in 2017.
Mind Control, who returned $4.30 as the odds-on favorite, banked $82,500 in victory while enhancing his lifetime earnings to $887,500. The Toboggan was his sixth victory in 11 lifetime starts.
Bred in Kentucky by Red Oak Stable, Mind Control is out of the Lightnin N Thunder broodmare Feel That Fire, who is a half-sister to stakes winner King for a Day.
Live racing resumes on Sunday afternoon with an eight-race card highlighted by the $100,000 Ladies. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.
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