Mind Control in fine fettle for Jerome
by Keith McCalmont
Grade 1 Hopeful winner Mind Control headlines a talented field of six set to contest the 149th running of the $150,000 Jerome on New Year's Day, Tuesday, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Jerome, a one-turn mile, marks the year's first official prep race on the NYRA calendar that is part of New York's "Road to the Kentucky Derby,"where 10 points will be awarded to the winner, four to the runner-up, two to the third-place finisher and one point given to fourth place for qualifying for the "Run for the Roses" on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Gregory Sacco for owners Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables, Mind Control flashed talent in his debut on July 5 at Delaware Park when second to Call Paul, who came right back to win the Grade 2 Saratoga Special.
Mind Control, by Stay Thirsty, graduated at second asking in a Monmouth maiden sprint, setting up a start in the Hopeful at Saratoga Race Course. Sent to post at odds of 10-1 in the Hopeful, Mind Control paid no attention to the toteboard, earning a three-quarters of a length score and an 84 Beyer Speed Figure.
Mind Control had to skip the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland after spiking a fever and made his final 2-year-old start in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, finishing seventh of 13 after a troubled beginning.
Sacco said that Mind Control was hampered by a number of factors in Kentucky.
"It was a combination of things. He'd flown in for the second time and unfortunately he didn't take the trip the way we would have liked," said Sacco. "Unlike the time we flew him in for the Futurity, he just wasn't himself for a day or two but then he settled in nicely at Churchill and was back to himself.
"It was very rainy there and we really didn't do a lot with him," he continued. "It was a combination of him not being himself and then getting a terrible start and losing position in the race. We were happy to see him pass half the field in the stretch, but the main thing is he came out of the race very good."
Mind Control has trained forwardly at Belmont Park since returning home from the Breeders' Cup.
"The original plan was to go the Springboard Mile [December 16 at Remington Park], but it really made sense to stay here and run in our backyard. He's really trained well at Belmont the past six weeks and we couldn't be happier to be in the Jerome on Tuesday," said Sacco. "He hasn't missed a beat. The training track at Belmont is on the deep side, but it's in great shape and he's gotten a lot out of every work. His fitness and energy level is right where we want it to be going into Tuesday's race.
"After the Breeders' Cup we weren't down on him," continued Sacco. "We really knew that wasn't him and he's really trained well. You don't know until you line them up in the gate again, but his weight is great, and his coat is great, and the works have been exactly what we wanted. We're looking forward to a big effort on Tuesday."
Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez will pilot Mind Control from post 3.
Live Oak homebred Souper Jackpot, trained by Mark Casse, brings speed and a classy pedigree to the Jerome. By Ghostzapper and out of multiple stakes winner Slewfoundmoney, Souper Jackpot is a half-brother to multiple graded stakes winner Awesome Slew.
The dark bay colt showed heart and determination to win at second asking on November 7 at Churchill Downs and arrives at the Jerome from a narrow neck loss in the Smooth Air at Gulfstream Park on December 8.
"He showed a lot of speed in that race, dueling for a bit, and ended up winning it," said Casse's assistant Jamie Begg of the maiden score. "It was the same type of race at Gulfstream where he was dueling but unfortunately came up on the wrong end of that."
Souper Jackpot shipped to New York on Wednesday from Palm Meadows in Florida with good references.
"I haven't had him that long, but he's the barn favorite down in Florida and it's apparent when you deal with him that he's pretty classy. He's been to the training track at Belmont for the last two days," said Begg. "All the major work was done down in Florida so he's ready to roll, we're just getting him over the training track here a little bit. He acts like a good horse."
While the well-bred bay has raced prominently in his last two starts, Begg says Junior Alvarado will have options when leaving from post 6.
"He shows speed, but I don't think we'll force him to do it if he doesn't want to be there," said Begg.
Direct Order, by New Year's Day, will be a hunch play with merit in the Jerome.
Trained by Jason Servis for owner Ara Aprahamian, Direct Order has won his last two starts including a maiden win over Jerome rival Gates of Dawn at Parx and a last out score in an optional claiming event at Aqueduct that earned a solid 80 Beyer.
Jose Lezcano has the call aboard Direct Order from the inside post.
Our Braintrust, trained and part-owned by Cathal Lynch, has won two of three career starts including the Tremont at Belmont on June 8 and steps into the Jerome from a good second in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity.
The dark bay son of Freud, bred in Maryland by Barak Farm, posted a bullet breeze of 47.80 seconds for four furlongs on December 27 at Laurel in preparation for his return to New York. Jorge Vargas, Jr. will pilot Our Braintrust from post 4.
Recent maiden winners Gates of Dawn, who will leave from post 5 under Frankie Pennington for trainer John Servis; and Family Biz, who will break from post 2 under Dylan Davis for conditioner Edward Barker, complete the field.
The Jerome is slated as Race 8 on Tuesday's 9-race New Year's Day card. First post time is 12:20 p.m.