Life Is Good cements place atop older male division with commanding victory
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The fight for the top of the podium in the older male division was thought to have been between the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion Life Is Good and the multiple graded-stakes-winning Olympiad in Saturday’s 95th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney. But CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm’s Life Is Good, the esteemed 4-year-old son of Into Mischief, asserted his dominance to come out on top in the nine-furlong test for older horses at Saratoga Race Course.
With his victory, Life Is Good earned a berth into the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 5 at Keeneland as part of the “Win and You’re In” qualifying program.
Elliot Walden, President and CEO of co-owner WinStar Farm, holds Life Is Good in high regard, going as far as to say the eight-time winner is as exciting and rewarding as Justify, the colt he co-campaigned to become the 13th winner of the Triple Crown in 2018.
“It felt like he was the best horse all along and he showed it today,” Walden said of the effort. “It’s real exciting, that’s what we’re here for. These kind of dreams and these kind of horses. To have Justify and this horse three years later is just incredible.”
Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Todd Pletcher, who also trains runner-up Happy Saver, Life Is Good arrived at the Whitney from a strong win in the Grade 2 John A. Nerud on July 2 at Belmont Park, returning to America with authority after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in March.
The accolades Life Is Good has earned thus far in 2022 continue to build upon a sublime sophomore campaign that saw him earn graded victories in the Grade 3 Sham and Grade 2 San Felipe in California before heading east to Pletcher’s barn to put on a performance in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens at the Spa that was regarded by many as the race of the year.
There, he dueled down the stretch in dramatic fashion with subsequent Champion Male Sprinter Jackie’s Warrior to come up a neck short in his only previous outing at Saratoga. He went on to dazzle with a win in the Grade 2 Kelso at Belmont before closing out the year with a frontrunning score in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar.
Life Is Good once again displayed his dominance on the front end in the Whitney, breaking sharply from the outermost post 5 under Irad Ortiz, Jr. to take a clear lead over his four rivals heading into the first turn. The Flavien Prat-piloted Hot Rod Charlie tracked in second along the rail with the well-regarded Olympiad just to his outside through an opening quarter-mile in 23.64 seconds over the good and harrowed main track.
Ortiz, Jr. let Life Is Good widen his advantage down the backstretch, confidently putting 3 1/2 lengths between him and Hot Rod Charlie through the half-mile in a swift 46.84. Hot Rod Charlie held a clear advantage in second over Olympiad, who began to come under a ride by Junior Alvarado in the turn. Meanwhile, Life Is Good’s Grade 1-winning stablemate, Happy Saver, progressed along the rail from fourth position under steady urging from Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Life Is Good continued to hold the advantage at the top of the lane as Hot Rod Charlie put in a bid to his outside and Happy Saver threatened to his inside. Life Is Good, under right-handed urging from Ortiz, Jr., angled inside and into Happy Saver’s path, causing his foe to move outside and swap places with him.
Despite the sudden switch of positions, Happy Saver kept on to the outside of Life Is Good with Hot Rod Charlie advancing down the center of the track, but Life Is Good proved too much for his rivals and won by two lengths in a final time of 1:48.97.
A determined Happy Saver would not be denied place honors and bested Hot Rod Charlie by a head to be the runner-up for his fifth consecutive race. It was another 7 1/4 lengths back to Olympiad with Zoomer, who never threatened, finishing a distant fifth. Americanrevolution was scratched.
Pletcher, who scored his fourth Whitney victory, said Life Is Good brought his best effort despite a hot and humid day at the Spa that saw earlier showers douse the main track.
“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 said. “I thought he was in good position. It looked like he kept finding more and I was happy to see him get there.”
As for Happy Saver, Pletcher said he was proud to see the 2020 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup-winning son of Super Saver put forth another game effort in a top-level race.
“He just kept finding. Happy Saver ran super. It looked for a second like he was going to get right there,” said Pletcher, who previously won this event with Left Bank , Lawyer Ron  and Cross Traffic . “Johnny said when he had to angle him off the rail, you could tell Life Is Good kind of found a little more.”
Ortiz, Jr. has been the pilot for five of Life Is Good’s past six races, and said the horse is a perfect professional.
“He’s a nice horse. He deserves all the credit. He does things easy,” said Ortiz, Jr. “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.”
Life Is Good’s romp down the backstretch was just fine with Ortiz, Jr., who took a slight hold but let him dictate terms.
“When we got to the three-quarter pole and along the backside he changed leads and he just took off. Two jumps. He was strong,” said Ortiz, Jr. “After that, I didn’t want to fight too much with him and he surprised me today. I just started to let him do his thing. It was a little early but I had just a little hold of him. I can’t fight too much with him.”
It was the third Whitney score for Ortiz, Jr., who previously guided the New York-bred Diversify  and Improbable  to victory. The three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey said the victory was another important milestone in his career.
“This means a lot. It’s a great race to win,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “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.”
Life Is Good collected his third Grade 1 win, adding to a 3 1/4-length victory over 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January at Gulfstream Park and his Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. A $525,000 purchase at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Life Is Good banked $535,000 for his Whitney coup, boosting his total purse earnings to in excess of $4 million.
Returning $3.70 for a $2 win wager as the post-time favorite, the bay colt’s record now stands at 8-1-0 from 10 lifetime outings. Life Is Good was bred in Kentucky by Gary and Mary West Stable.
Velazquez said Happy Saver showed heart down the stretch and that the inward move by Life Is Good did not warrant a claim of foul.
“He was two lengths in front of me, there was nothing I could do,” said Velazquez. “Even if I claimed foul there was nothing they were going to do – he was clear. Obviously, he was really clear when he went in and I pulled mine out and that was it. We just switched positions, that’s all it was. He was that clear when he went in that I went outside with no trouble at all.
“I thought he ran really well,” Velazquez added. “From the three-sixteenths pole, I thought I had a really good chance but the other horse had another gear. When I put him out, he stayed the same pace and the other one had another gear, so he won.”
Bill Strauss, co-owner of Hot Rod Charlie, said the son of Oxbow always gives his best and may look to the Grade 2 Lukas Classic on October 1 at Churchill Downs next.
“The effort was there. He was moving well and he always tries,” said Strauss. “He just didn’t get there today. I was surprised he didn’t finish second. I don’t know if the winner would have been beaten today. He came back quite tired. We’ve been training down at Keeneland and I think if you train over this surface, it gets them fitter than being at Keeneland.”
Alvarado said he could not explain the dull performance from Olympiad, who entered the race undefeated in five starts this year.
“He didn’t run at all. He didn’t run his race. Not even close. If he ran his race at least I’d say, ‘we finished second.’ But he didn’t run his race,” said Alvarado. “At the half-mile I knew I was in trouble. He wasn’t traveling or picking it up like he normally does.
“I gave him a chance to regroup at the three-eighths and start picking it up again to see if he would start doing it and nothing,” Alvarado added. “At that point I knew he wasn’t showing up. No excuses for the track [conditions]. Good horses are supposed to handle the track and anything else. That is not the excuse. If he had a problem with the track he should at least try to the eighth-pole, but he was done very early for me.”
By Mary Eddy