Speaking from his winter base at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida, conditioner Kiaran McLaughlin reported Shadwell Stable's newly minted graded stakes winner Haikal exited his Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham victory on Saturday in good order.
“He looks great,” said McLaughlin. “He appears to have come out of the race well and I have to say that [assistant] Joe Lee and our team in New York have done a great job with him.”
Picking up 50 qualifying points with yesterday's victory, McLaughlin said he will point Haikal towards the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial, which offers 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, for his next start. The nine-furlong Wood, slated for Saturday, April 6, will see its purse increased to $1 million if a Grade 1 or Group 1 winner is declared an official starter.
“He's won at six [furlongs], he's won at seven [furlongs], and now he's won at eight [furlongs], so we're going to give him a shot at nine [furlongs],” said McLaughlin. “I'll definitely be in town for that race.”
A half-brother to graded stakes winner Takaful, who also started his 3-year-old campaign on the Derby trail before ultimately excelling as a sprinter winning the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park, Haikal has wheeled off three consecutive victories.
In addition to a December 15 maiden win, the son of Daaher captured his first stakes on February 8 at the Big A, winning the Jimmy Winkfield ahead of his Gotham coup.
Sent off as the 4-1 second-choice in the Gotham, Haikal stayed true to his late running style under jockey Rajiv Maragh. In seventh position early in the field of eight, he rallied from the outside in the final furlong to run down three competitors to earn a one-length victory.
“On paper it looked like he would benefit from a lot of pace in the race,” said McLaughlin. “I'm just happy when they opened the gate, that stayed true to form. They really went fast up front going a half [mile] in 44 [seconds] and change. That really benefited us, and Rajiv gave him the perfect ride.”
Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables' Grade 1-winner Mind Control, trained by Gregory Sacco, continues to thrive at Aqueduct.
The Stay Thirsty bay, who won the Jerome here on New Year's Day earning 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, rallied resolutely up the rail to finish second behind Haikal in Saturday's Gotham, earning an additional 20 qualifying points to bring his total to 30.
Bred in Kentucky by Red Oak Stable, Mind Control is tied for fifth in the Kentucky Derby points standings with Game Winner. The colt, who captured the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga in September, is expected to make his next start in the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial slated for Saturday, April 6 at the Big A. The Wood will see its purse increased to $1 million if any previous Grade 1 or Group 1 winner is declared an official starter in the race.
“Moving forward, going two turns in the Wood is the next logical spot,” said Sacco. “He has the tactical speed to be forwardly placed and we know he doesn't need the lead. I think he'll be able to settle and if it's a paceless race he can make it. What we learned yesterday is a real big plus for Mind Control.
“We were really proud of him,” added Sacco. “He ran a dynamite race and Kiaran's horse [Haikal] ran an exceptional race. It was a fun race to watch and we're really happy with how he ran.”
After winning the Hopeful and the Jerome with front-running performances, Sacco said his team worked hard in the morning to teach the talented colt to settle and make one run.
On Saturday, with the Bob Baffert-trained Much Better setting a quick pace, Mind Control was patiently handled by Hall of Famer John Velazquez from sixth position before rallying into the lead in deep stretch.
“The horse showed a new dimension yesterday. We had trained him in the morning behind horses, let him take dirt, and then finish up,” said Sacco. “Yesterday, he really passed a test doing that. It was a hot pace. We took a lot of dirt.”
With Much Better staying on and the previously undefeated Instagrand rallying outside the pacesetter, Mind Control was forced to take the rail route.
“Johnny said he came up to the Baffert horse [Much Better] and Instagrand and he forged ahead of them, but this horse just does what he has to do. He doesn't really draw off,” said Sacco. “He had those two horses [measured], but Mike Smith [aboard Much Better] was out in the middle of the track because it was the best part of the track the second half of the day.
“Castellano [aboard Instagrand] knows this track as good as anyone and they were both out in the middle of the track, so we had to take the rail,” continued Sacco. “It was the deepest part of the track the second half of the day.”
While Haikal flew by late down the middle of the track to earn the win, Sacco said he was proud of his horse for passing a maturity test.
“We were really proud he sat off the pace and came up the rail. He didn't see the other horse [Haikal] coming. He had the other two horses beat but he didn't see Haikal coming. Not to take anything away from Kiaran's horse, he flew the last part and ran a great race,” said Sacco.
Sacco said Mind Control was in good order this morning following his effort in the Gotham.
“He came out of the race great. He ate up everything and walked good. We're really happy with how he bounced out of the race,” said Sacco.
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