March 24, 2023

Life Is Good delivers effortless victory in San Felipe

Life Is Good
Life Is Good and jockey Mike Smith win the San Felipe Stakes (Benoit Photo)

Green but glorious—such is the impression presented by Life Is Good, who kept his unbeaten record intact by shattering a deep field of Kentucky Derby contenders in the $400,000 San Felipe S. (G2) on Saturday at Santa Anita.

Some analysts questioned whether the son of Into Mischief could stretch his speed over 1 1/16 miles. In the one-mile Sham (G3) at Santa Anita two months ago, Life Is Good led by daylight for most of the journey before seeing his advantage dwindle to just three-quarters of a length at the finish line.

But between the Sham and the San Felipe, Life Is Good trained like a monster for Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert, and jockey Mike Smith rode the 2-5 favorite with confidence. Smith attributed Life Is Good’s diminishing advantage in the Sham to the colt getting distracted by the infield video screen, rather than a lack of stamina. This assessment took on added credence in the San Felipe, where Life Is Good again displayed a fascination with the video screen, but dispelled any concerns about his endurance.

When the gates opened, Life Is Good broke inward but alertly, tugging his way to a clear lead around the turn and down the backstretch. Through fractions of :23.63, :46.83, and 1:10.55, Life Is Good extended his early lead from two lengths to three lengths, racing eagerly but within himself as Smith carefully rationed the colt’s abundant speed. Stablemate and Sham runner-up Medina Spirit was content to track in second place, followed closely by impressive maiden winners The Great One and Dream Shake.

“He’s learning to settle. He’s maturing and getting smarter,” Smith told Santa Anita after the race. “Early on, he was so used to exploding from the pole or the gate. He’s learning how to run now which is the big key, and he’s learning how to get into a rhythm. The rhythm is going to be a bit fast because he is that good and he has an extremely high cruising speed.”

Life Is Good continued to lead by daylight around the final bend, and though he drifted out coming off the turn—once again reacting to the infield video screen—the outcome of the San Felipe was never in doubt. Under a light hand ride from Smith, Life Is Good powered clear with authority, flashing across the finish line eight lengths clear of his closest pursuer.

“When the big screen is lit up, they can see it. He was actually looking at it walking to the gate, and he kept seeing the horses on the screen,” added Smith. “That’s what he is looking at. In the mornings he goes by the screen like it’s nothing because it’s not on. He was locked in on it down the lane today.”

But even without applying his full focus to the business of racing, Life Is Good was tons the best, completing the race in a rapid 1:42.18.

“He’s just so talented. I had a strong hold on him down to the wire, just holding onto him making sure that he stayed straight,” said Smith. “I think he showed that he could get the distance, when a horse can get a mile and sixteenth the way he did today, it gives you every indication they could go an eighth of a mile further.”

Medina Spirit showed tenacity to round out the exacta, but unlike in the Sham, he was never able to draw within striking range of his stablemate. Dream Shake, Roman Centurian, The Great One, None Above the Law, and Govenor’s Party completed the order of finish.

Bred by Gary and Mary West, Life Is Good races for the partnership of WinStar Farm and CHC INC (China Horse Club). With his unblemished 3-for-3 resume and earnings of $274,200, the bay colt has emerged as one of the most exciting three-year-olds in training. By virtue of his victories in the Sham and San Felipe, Life Is Good has accumulated 60 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, virtually assuring him a spot in the Derby starting gate.

As of 8 p.m. (ET), Life Is Good was the 7-2 favorite in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 4, which closes on Sunday. Bettors are evidently keen to lock in their wagers now, because if Life Is Good develops a more professional racing attitude with maturity, he’s bound to start at an even shorter price on the first Saturday in May.