ELMONT, N.Y. – CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm’s multiple Grade 1-winner Life Is Good proved to be much the best in a showdown with Grade 1-winner Speaker’s Corner in Saturday’s Grade 2, $250,000 John A. Nerud, a seven-furlong sprint for older horses at Belmont Park.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher and piloted for the first time by Flavien Prat, the 4-year-old Into Mischief colt broke alertly from the inside post and never relinquished, drawing off to a five-length score over Speaker’s Corner.
“You never take anything for granted. There’s only one outcome that was OK and that was for him to win,” Pletcher said. “He ran against a Grade 1-winner and drew the rail, so you worry about all those things. He broke sharp, high cruising speed and just kept going. I loved the way he galloped out.”
Life Is Good, a dominant 5 3/4-length winner of last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Del Mar, marked off splits of 22.19 seconds and 44.70 under outside pressure from Speaker’s Corner before coasting home in a final time of 1:21.70 over the fast main track. The Jose Ortiz-piloted Speaker’s Corner completed the exacta by 2 1/2-lengths over Repo Rocks with Harvard rounding out the order of finish. War Tocsin was scratched.
Pletcher said the impressive score should propel Life Is Good to the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney on August 6 at Saratoga Race Course. The nine-furlong Whitney offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Keeneland.
“I felt like he was always very comfortable even though they were going pretty fast. Strategically, if you’re Speaker’s Corner, you can’t let him [Life Is Good] get away the whole way,” said Pletcher, who won the Nerud last year with Mind Control. “We anticipated he would put some pressure on us and it was legitimate pressure. They went 44 and change for the half. It was a good race.
“We got a little something out of it. A nice strong gallop out. We’ll come back in five weeks and see if we can make another step forward,” Pletcher added. “Watching him gallop out he was all the way over to the pony shed which was three-eighths of a mile past the finish line, so I was happy he [Prat] got him pulled up.”
Prat, who took over for the suspended Irad Ortiz, Jr., said he felt comfortable throughout.
“We avoided some trouble by breaking well and getting into the lead. After that, I was travelling super,” Prat said. “In the turn, I didn’t know if he [Ortiz] had horse or if he was just trying to stay with me. But as soon as we hit the quarter-pole, he responded right away. He galloped out great. I got a great impression of him. He’s always been a talented horse and everyone has high hopes on him. He showed it again today.”
Life Is Good enjoyed a remarkable sophomore season, winning 4-of-5 starts led by scores in the Grade 3 Sham and Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita along with a 5 1/2-length romp in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap in September over Big Sandy. His lone loss last year came at Saratoga Race Course with a narrow neck defeat in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial to Jackie’s Warrior, who went on to be named last year’s Champion Male Sprinter.
The talented bay launched his current campaign in January with a 3 1/4-length score over reigning Horse of the Year Knicks Go in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park ahead of a fourth-place finish on March 26 in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup over a slow and deep track at Meydan.
Elliott Walden, President/CEO and Racing Manager of WinStar Farm, commended Pletcher for having Life Is Good ready to roll off the layoff.
“He was ready to go. It was nice to see him back. He ran super and it’s onward and upward,” Walden said. “Obviously, they wanted to try and take it to him a little bit early, but this horse’s weapon is his speed, so damned if you do, damned if you don’t. He’s just an incredible horse and I’m excited to see what happens the rest of the year.”
Godolphin homebred Speaker’s Corner was piloted by Ortiz with regular rider Junior Alvarado committed to fellow Bill Mott trainee Olympiad later today in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. Speaker’s Corner exited the outermost post 4 and pestered Life Is Good to the top of the lane before fading.
“He ran good. Life Is Good is a very nice horse,” said Ortiz, who had guided Speaker’s Corner on two previous occasions, including a 5 1/4-length allowance win in August at Saratoga. “He just slid over a little bit and I was going to apply some pressure going to the second quarter. I did, but he [Life Is Good] was the better horse. He just couldn’t keep up and ran evenly the whole time.”
Speaker’s Corner launched his campaign with a trio of graded wins, taking the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper and Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile ahead of a 4 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 9 at Aqueduct Racetrack. He entered the Nerud from a third-place finish to the streaking Flightline in the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap on June 11.
Out of the Distorted Humor mare Beach Walk, Life Is Good was purchased for $525,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Bred in Kentucky by Gary and Mary West Stable, Life Is Good banked $137,500 in victory while improving his record to 9-7-1-0. He returned $2.40 for a $2 win wager.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Belmont Park with a nine-race card headlined by the $100,000 Perfect Sting in Race 8. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the spring/summer meet at Belmont Park on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Belmont Park, and the best way to bet every race of the spring/summer meet. Available to horse players nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
By Keith McCalmont
Photo of Life Is Good by Chelsea Durand