It’s only January and there are still 11 months to go in the 2022 racing season.
But judging by what happened Jan. 29 in the rich Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Presented by 1/ST BET one point has become crystal clear.
If anyone hopes to outshine Life Is Good, they will need an unearthly performance to do it.
Impending Horse of the Year Knicks Go tried to do just that in his final start, but he proved to be no match for Life Is Good who sprinted to a clear lead on the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus and then romped home 3 1/4 lengths ahead of 2021 Pegasus winner Knicks Go in the $2,941,500 stakes at Gulfstream Park.
“I can’t think of a horse (I trained) better than him,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s extra special. He has that unique ability to go fast and just keep going.
Considering that Pletcher is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and his horses have earned more purse money than any other trainer, those are not hollow words. They were forged by a record of 6 wins in 7 starts for the ownership group of WinStar Farm and China Horse Club and confirmed by an effort in which the 4-year-old son of Into Mischief and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. beat Knicks Go at his own game with a blazing display of speed.
“That shows how brilliant Life Is Good is,” said Elliott Walden, president, CEO, and racing manager of owner Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm. “When they were on the backstretch, Irad said he was going so fast and when he looked back the rest of the field was so far back and he hadn’t asked him to run yet. It was just a great feeling to see that. I felt great watching him. We’ve seen him train in the morning and he never gets tired, so when he was as far in front as he was, we knew he was not going to stop.”
No, Life Is Good, after leading by a stunning 3 1/2 lengths after a half-mile in :46.35, did not stop. His engine continued to run at top speed until he crossed the finish line in 1:48.91 and in the process he did not just assume the baton of leadership from a retiring Horse of the Year. He forcefully grabbed it out of Knicks Go’s hands and ran away and hid with it.
“There was a risk that if Knicks Go and (Life Is Good) got into speed duel, something had to give,” Pletcher said about the front end battle with frontrunning Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Knicks Go that never materialized. “But today he was too fast and too good. It’s a really special quality and it’s fun to watch.”
With his connections enjoying the good life, the fun figures to resume March 26 when Life Is Good may return in the $12 million Group 1 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airlines at a longer 1 1/4-mile distance. Given how Life Is Good had never raced beyond 1 1/16 miles before Saturday that probably will not faze the son of the Distorted Humor mare Beach Walk who was bred in Kentucky by Gary and Mary West.
“We’re in no rush to make a decision,” Pletcher said about a colt who started his career with trainer Bob Baffert and missed much of his 3-year-old season due to an ankle chip, “but we do feel this horse is talented enough to do just about anything and that includes get a mile-and-a-quarter.”
Saturday underscored all of that on a day when the ascent of Life Is Good came at a time when Knicks Go turned in one of his most puzzling efforts while under the care of trainer Brad Cox. Breaking from the rail under jockey Joel Rosario, the speedy Knicks Go appeared poised to be on the front end, or at least very close to it. But after breaking cleanly, Rosario felt some pressure as Life Is Good and Stilleto Boy moved in front of him in the initial strides and he tucked in third behind them.
“Joel said there were a couple of horses there with him and Joel said, ‘OK, we’ll take back.’ That was Plan B,” Cox said. “I wanted to go with Plan A (be on the lead) but we didn’t execute Plan A. He did a good job but it wasn’t good enough. The winner was very, very good.”
Though Knicks Go chased in second most of the way, he could not cut into the margin until the final stages when the Grade 1 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner was taken into hand by Ortiz after leading by 4 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole.
The 4-5 favorite, Life Is Good paid $3.60 to win for his decisive victory.
“It’s just been a blessing,” Troutt said. “God has really, really helped us. This horse has just been really special.”
For Ortiz, there was a special feeling, not just from winning the Pegasus, but from also capturing the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes Presented by Baccarat after suffering a Jan. 7 knee injury that seemed destined to sideline him for the Pegasus races.
“Thank God for my health,” Ortiz said. “A couple of doctors told me I couldn’t make it.”
Knicks Go, a 6-year-old Maryland-bred son of Paynter owned by the Korea Racing Authority, held second by a length over Steve Moger’s Stilleto Boy (Shackleford) as no one offered much of a closing kick-except the winner.
For Knicks Go, it was the final chapter in a career that included 10 wins in 25 starts and earnings of $9,258,135 before he heads off to a life at stud at Taylor Made Stallions.
Life Is Good is the second of four foals from Beach Walk and her second winner. She also has a 2-year-old Blame filly and a yearling Candy Ride colt who have yet to race. -Bob Ehalt
Colonel Liam Repeats in Pegasus Turf
Robert and Lawana Low’s Colonel Liam returned from a nearly eight-month layoff Jan. 29 to capture the $1 Million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes presented by Baccarat for the second consecutive year at Gulfstream Park.
The 5-year-old son of Liam’s Map hadn’t raced since finishing eighth June 5 in the 1 1/4-mile Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park. He then rested until returning to work in early December.
“He didn’t lose a step, he came back like he was,” jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said. “He’s healthy. He felt very strong. He ran like he never left.”
Colonel Liam was hand-timed covering the 1 1/8-mile race on firm turf in 1:47.48 after times initially posted by Gulfstream Park were inaccurate. No hand-timed fractions were posted on the Equibase chart. Numerous turf races at Gulfstream Park this winter have needed to be hand-timed as a corrective measure.
Stablemate Never Surprised, owned by Repole Stable, finished second after setting the early pace.
“I felt like Never Surprised would definitely be the pacesetter,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “When he drew post 12, it kind of forced (jockey) Luis (Saez) to commit to that.
“We kind of felt like Colonel Liam could get a good stalking position. He ended up being a little closer than I thought he would be but I think he was right where Irad wanted him to be.”
Never Surprised broke and was hustled to the front by Saez. The leader then was pressed by Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale Stakes winner Doswell, owned by Joseph Allen, through six furlongs.
The 8-5 favorite, Colonel Liam tracked the pace in fourth and then third.
Colonel Liam advanced three deep around the far turn and then took the lead nearing the eighth pole. The gray horse drew clear under Ortiz’s steady left-handed urging.
Saez lost his whip in the upper stretch, but Never Surprised, a 4-year-old son of Constitution, fought hard inside the leader and held on for second, one length behind Colonel Liam.
Clipper Logistics’ Space Traveller, ridden by Jamie Spencer, was half-length back in third and a neck ahead of Jordan Wycoff’s Atone, under Javier Castellano.
Three Diamonds Farm’s Cross Border and rider Reylu Gutierrez finished fifth. -Charlie McCarthy
Regal Glory Overcomes Wide Trip to Win Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf
Regal Glory went to post favored in the inaugural running of the Grade 3 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational Presented by PEPSI and got the job done. But she had to work for it.
The 6-year-old Animal Kingdom mare normally runs on or at least near the lead. But in the Pegasus, she was off a beat behind rivals from post 3, shut off a few strides later, and relegated to a spot near the back of the 10-horse field.
From there, jockey Jose Ortiz confidently bided his time. He started to pick off rivals on the turn, swung wide around the leaders, and got Regal Glory to the front when it mattered, winning by 2 1/2 lengths.
“The ‘5’ horse (Gift List) broke really sharp and took my position,” Ortiz said. “At the three-eighths pole, I had a lot of horse and decided to go around everybody. You could see I had a lot of horse under me. She was just the best in the race.”
Trainer Chad Brown concurred.
“Thankfully, Jose knows her so well and she’s so good that she was able to overcome it. He rode a beautiful ‘Plan B’ type of race.”
Alms was second, followed by Shifty She and Gift List, another neck and a head back, in the race formerly known as the Marshua’s River Stakes before being given a purse boost from $125,000 last year to $500,000 for inclusion in the Pegasus program. -Bob Kieckhefer