As usual, class prevailed in the $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, with the 3-2 favorite Mind Control seizing the lead at the start and leading his five rivals on a merry chase for the remainder of the one-mile race.
With Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the saddle, Mind Control ran exactly as expected by the majority of bettors. The son of Stay Thirsty had won the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga last summer in front-running style, and after losing all chance with a slow start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), a return to sprinting along on the front end proved a recipe for success in the Jerome.
That’s not to say that Mind Control didn’t have to work for his victory. He was closely pressed by second choice Souper Jackpot through early fractions of :24.16, :48.40, and 1:13.78 over a track labeled “good,” and for a time it appeared that Souper Jackpot and even the charging Gates of Dawn were poised to roll right past the favorite.
However, when the field straightened into the homestretch, those two flattened out and Mind Control forged his way to a one-length advantage. His biggest challenge wound up coming from the late-running Our Braintrust, winner of the Tremont Stakes at Belmont last spring, but while Our Braintrust came home strongly (pulling four lengths clear of eventual third-place finisher Family Biz), Mind Control was resilient on the front end and gamely pulled away late to win by 1 ½ lengths.
“I wanted to put him in the race and make sure that I was in a good position where if someone was going crazy, I could just sit off the speed,” Velazquez told the New York Racing Association after the race. “I broke well and got the position I wanted in the first part of the race. I saw the other horse on the outside [Souper Jackpot], he didn’t want to go, so I got close to him and by the turn we both came in and kind of sat there. Down the lane, I remember from Saratoga he opens up and he waits, so I waited until they came after him to get after him really hard and he responded really well.”
Mind Control ran the final quarter-mile in :25.28, a respectable enough fraction for a young three-year-old at Aqueduct, and stopped the clock in 1:39.06 for the one-turn mile, sufficient to earn a career-best 88 Beyer speed figure. Gates of Dawn and Souper Jackpot faded to finish fifth and sixth, while Direct Order trailed the field throughout.
Mind Control was the sixth favorite to win the Jerome in the last seven years, making the race among the most historically predictable Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races. The victory awarded Mind Control 10 qualification points toward the 2019 Kentucky Derby, a significant step in the right direction considering that he didn’t earn any for his victory in the Hopeful.
Trained by Gregory Sacco and owned by the partnership of Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables, Mind Control increased his career earnings to $323,400. Future plans have yet to be determined, though Sacco did mention the April 6th Wood Memorial (gr. II) at Aqueduct as a possible long-term target.