Homeracing

Game Winner vs. Mind Control: Who’s More Likely to Win the Kentucky Derby?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

September 8th, 2018

On Labor Day, the summer race meets at Del Mar and Saratoga came to a climax with the running of the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) and the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), the first two Grade 1 events of the year for two-year-old males.

As a result, Game Winner (who prevailed in the Del Mar Futurity) and Mind Control (a determined winner of the Hopeful) have thrust their names into the spotlight as early contenders for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and—of course—the 2019 Kentucky Derby (gr. I).

Both colts appear to have very bright futures, but which one is more likely to reach the Derby winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May? Let’s attempt to answer that question by comparing and contrasting both colts in four categories: Speed Figures, Running Style, Pedigree, and Connections.

Speed Figures

Although Mind Control posted the slightly faster final time (1:22.99 for seven furlongs compared to 1:23.18 for Game Winner), Saratoga was playing faster than Del Mar on Labor Day, a fact that is reflected in the speed figures earned by each colt. Whereas Mind Control posted an 84 Beyer, a 92 BRIS, and 94 Equibase speed figure, Game Winner ran faster by every measure, earning a 93 Beyer, a 97 BRIS, and a 102 Equibase speed figure. At least to date, Game Winner has been the faster horse.

Advantage: Game Winner

Running Style

Early speed is the universal advantage in North American dirt racing, and Mind Control has more than his fair share. He won the Hopeful Stakes in gate-to-wire fashion while setting fast fractions of :22.96 and :45.68, but take note, he’s not speed-crazy by any means. In his maiden victory at Monmouth Park, Mind Control settled quite nicely in second place before seizing command to win by three lengths.

Game Winner has plenty of tactical speed as well, but in his two starts to date he’s raced in fourth place early on before rallying to victory. The ability to rate off a fast pace is by no means a disadvantage (and it could very well be an advantage in the Kentucky Derby), but generally speaking, early speed is a major benefit and Mind Control appears to have a slight edge in this department.

Advantage: Mind Control

Pedigree

It’s hard to knock the pedigree of either colt, as both can boast enough stamina influences to suggest that classic distances won’t be an issue. Game Winner’s pedigree in particular is impressive; his sire, Candy Ride, won the Pacific Classic (gr. I) going 1 ¼ miles and sired the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Gun Runner, while Game Winner’s dam—Indyan Giving—was sired by A.P. Indy, who won the 1992 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and is renowned as a source of stamina. For good measure, Indyan Giving’s dam, Fleet Indian, was a Grade 1 winner going 1 ¼ miles.

Mind Control’s pedigree leans more toward speed—his dam, Feel That Fire, was a stakes-winning sprinter, while his damsire, Lightnin N Thunder, didn’t seem to stay 8.5 furlongs very well in his lone start around two turns—but Mind Control’s sire is the 2011 Belmont Stakes runner-up Stay Thirsty, who adds some stamina to the mix. But will Mind Control take after his sire or his dam as he stretches out in distance? That remains to be seen.

Advantage: Game Winner

Connections

Since we’re looking ahead to the Kentucky Derby, we have to give the advantage here to Game Winner. After all, his trainer—the Hall of Fame member Bob Baffert—has won the Derby five times and the Triple Crown twice, while Game Winner’s two jockeys to date—Joel Rosario and Mario Gutierrez—have won three Kentucky Derbies between them.

But while Mind Control’s trainer (Gregory Stacco) might not be a household name, he’s done great work in the past with horses like Unbridled Essence (who upset the 2010 Grade 3 Taylor Made Matchmaker Stakes at 41-1) and Foreverness (who stunned five rivals in the 2006 Grade 3 Forty Marcy Handicap at 12-1). Furthermore, Mind Control was guided to victory in the Hopeful by the two-time Kentucky Derby-winning rider John Velazquez, so even as the stakes get higher down the road, there’s no doubt that Mind Control has a great team in his corner.

Advantage: Game Winner

Conclusions

While a lot can change in the eight months between now and the Kentucky Derby, I believe for now that Game Winner is more likely than Mind Control to prevail in the “Run for the Roses.” That’s why I’ve ranked Game Winner #1 on my way-too-early Kentucky Derby Top 10 while leaving Mind Control on the outside looking in, though if you’re a fan of Mind Control, I certainly can’t blame you. He’s shown a lot of potential already, and if his pedigree doesn’t prove to be a stumbling block, he could very well outperform Game Winner in the months to come.

Which colt do you think has the better chance of winning the 2019 Kentucky Derby?
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