Mind Control as game as ever in the G1 Cigar Mile (Joe Labozzetta)
NYRA Press Office
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables’ three-time Grade 1-winning millionaire Mind Control had to overcome adversity to win the final start of his career, but his superiority reigned supreme in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The 6-year-old bay horse, with Hall of Famer John Velazquez up, displayed his signature grit when confronted by Get Her Number, winner of the 2020 Grade 1 American Pharoah, to his outside while also fending off an inside rally from Grade 1 Florida Derby-winner White Abarrio in the stretch drive. With his ears pinned back, Mind Control would not be denied and came out a head on top, completing the one-turn mile in 1:35.53.
The triumph provided Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher with a record-extending sixth Cigar Mile win. Among his previous Cigar Mile heroes are Mind Control’s sire Stay Thirsty, who captured this event in 2012 in the final start of his career. The last father-son duo to win the Cigar Mile were inaugural 1988 winner Forty Niner, who produced 1996 winner Gold Fever.
“I was so proud of him yesterday. That was a phenomenal performance,” Pletcher said. “It’s just great to see him have a victory like that in his final career start. He deserved to go out that way.”
Red Oak Stable racing manager Rick Sacco echoed Pletcher’s sentiments.
“We’re elated, he’s such a cool horse to be around and it’s such a thrill to be associated with the horse,” Sacco said.
Mind Control was initially trained by Gregg Sacco, capturing Saratoga Race Course’s Grade 1 Hopeful during his juvenile season in 2018 and Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial the following year. He was transferred to Pletcher’s barn last summer and made a winning debut in the Grade 2 John A. Nerud in July 2021 by a head over Belmont Park specialist Firenze Fire.
Last September, he made his first two-turn start in nearly three years in the Parx Dirt Mile, defeating Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap winner Silver State and registering a career-best 104 Beyer. He matched that figure this year with a hard-fought triumph over Grade 1-winning multimillionaire Hot Rod Charlie in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park.
While bittersweet, the sendoff was a fitting one for Mind Control, who had to overcome sloppy and sealed track conditions in his final test. He was soundly beaten in his previous two starts over a track rated “sloppy.”
“It’s not only great for him to go out on a win, but for him to do it in the style that defines his character and fight off challenges from the Florida Derby winner on the inside, the American Pharoah winner on the outside,” Pletcher said. “Three Grade 1-winners battling it out across the track. He showed that signature move of his where he puts his head in front and won’t be denied.”
Sacco described Mind Control’s final career start as, “almost like a movie ending.”
“It’s incredible stuff,” Sacco said. “We’re very proud of the horse, the team and everything that he means to us. It was fitting and it was awesome that Johnny came in to ride. We’re delighted and over the moon. I just want to congratulate Todd and the wonderful job my brother, Gregg, did early on in his career. It was all kind of a fitting end to a really, really cool horse’s career.
“Everyone says that. Whether it’s Todd, who calls him a warrior, or Amelia Green, who gets on him every day,” Sacco added. “He has a special place in everyone’s heart because of what he’s done over such a long career.”
With the Cigar Mile now in the rearview mirror, Sacco said discussions will continue on where Mind Control will stand at stud.
“The feedback over the last two months was how good this horse has been doing. I wanted to play this hand and wait until we ran,” Sacco said. “The way it played out was fitting for us, but I wanted to wait until after he ran. That was my gut feeling and that I didn’t want to have conversations until after this race. We skipped the Breeders’ Cup by design, and we wanted to wait until after this race and now I feel like we can have the right type of conversation that we need to have now.”
Red Oak Stable, owned by Stephen Brunetti, has campaigned talented Grade 1-winners Sweet Return and Unbridled Mo as well as dual stakes-winner and New York stallion King for a Day.
“He ranks as Number One,” Sacco said of Mind Control. “He’s won graded stakes every year from 2-to-6, three Grade 1s. He’s won the most money we’ve ever had with a horse. He’s the best horse we’ve ever had for sure.”
While not in attendance, the ownership group watched the Cigar Mile on a plane ride from St. Barthelemy to Miami.
“We celebrated Stephen Brunetti’s birthday this weekend in St. Barts and we were on a plane flying back to Miami when the race was being run,” Sacco said. “We had a bottle of champagne, and we weren’t going to crack it open. But if he won, we were going to do it. Stephen Brunetti was on the plane with one of his college friends and his wife, so it was extraordinary to win on the flight over. And we did open up that bottle of champagne immediately.”