June 6, 2023

Life Is Good leads wire-to-wire in Whitney

Life is Good with Irad Ortiz riding wins the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar Race Track (Photo by Horsephotos)

Life Is Good showed speed from the gate in Saturday’s $1 million Whitney (G1) and after facing a brief challenge in the stretch, the classy four-year-old colt won going away by two lengths in the prestigious 1 1/8-mile event for older horses at Saratoga.

Irad Ortiz Jr. was up for Todd Pletcher on the son of Into Mischief, and Life Is Good stamped his Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) ticket in the “Win & You’re In” race. Pegged as the 7-2 second choice in the first of two Breeders’ Cup Classic Future Wager pools this weekend, Life Is Good only strengthened his position as a top contender.

“To me, it’s the premier older horse race in the country outside of the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” said Pletcher, who earned his fourth Whitney success after winning with Cross Traffic (2013), Lawyer Ron (2007), and Left Bank (2002). “So, it means a lot.”

The Whitney marked Life Is Good’s first two-turn start since weakening to fourth as the favorite in the 1 1/4-mile Dubai World Cup (G1) in late March. The bay returned from a three-month freshening with a convincing win in the seven-furlong John A. Nerud (G2) at Belmont on July 2, and his overall record now reads 10-7-1-0, $4,086,700.

“This means a lot,” Ortiz Jr. said. “It’s a great race to win. I’m happy for the connections and the horse, too. He stayed and just never quit. He was in control and the horse deserves all the credit. I just ride him and he was in the front the whole time.”

Racing well off the rail from the start, Life Is Good established opening fractions in :23.64, :46.84, and 1:10.93 on a clear lead. Hot Rod Charlie and Olympiad tried to gain ground on the far turn and swung wide into the stretch, leaving the inside open for Happy Saver, who advanced to nearly even terms with the odds-on favorite.

Life Is Good still had more in reserve, fighting back and crossing over in front of his challenger, and he edged away in the final furlong to score comfortably under the wire, stopping the teletimer 1:48.97.

“He does things easy,” Ortiz Jr. said. “He might make things look easy, but he was running since the three-quarter (pole) all the way to the wire. He was the speed of the race, honestly. He’s fast out of the gate. He broke good and then I just let him do his thing.”

“There are so many factors to worry about with heat, the humidity, the track’s been playing pretty demanding, but during the race, it looked like he was always in control,” Pletcher added. “I thought he was in good position. It looked like he kept finding more and I was happy to see him get there.”

Happy Saver, off at 13-1, held second by a head over Hot Rod Charlie. It was another 7 1/4 lengths to 9-5 second choice Olympiad, who had a five-race win streak snapped after coming up empty in the final furlongs, and Zoomer trailed.

Owned by China Horse Club and WinStar Farm, Life Is Good won his first three starts for Bob Baffert, including the San Felipe (G2) and Sham (G3), to establish himself as the early favorite for the 2021 Kentucky Derby (G1), but was forced to miss the Triple Crown due to a minor physical setback.

Transferred in the interim to Pletcher, he returned last summer with a neck second to eventual sprint champion Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1), and concluded his sophomore season with convincing wins in the Kelso H. (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

Life Is Good opened 2022 with a smashing five-length win over 2021 Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Knicks Go in 1 1/8-mile Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream in January.

Bred in Kentucky by Gary and Mary West, Life Is Good is the first stakes winner from the Distorted Humor mare Beach Walk.

“I think we’ll play it by ear and see how he bounces out of this,” Pletcher said when asked about the colt’s next start. “He put forth a big effort today and ran great. I was proud of his effort. We’ll see what’s next, we could wait for the (Oct. 3) Woodward ([G1] at Belmont Park) or come back for the (Sept. 3) Jockey Club (Gold Cup [G1] at Saratoga). We’ve got some options.”