Life Was Good, Very Good

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Life Is Good | Horsephotos

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There is talk that Breeders' Cup winners Knicks Go (Paynter) and Life Is Good (Into Mischief) will meet in the Jan. 29 GI Pegasus S. at Gulfstream. I'll take Life Is Good. He was that good Saturday in the GI Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

Nothing against Knicks Go or any of the other winners over the weekend at Del Mar, but the best horse over the 14 races that make up the Breeders' Cup was Life Is Good. He put in a sensational performance in the Dirt Mile in an effort that suggested that, if he stays healthy, he is on the verge of becoming one of the brightest stars this sport has seen in a while. I can't wait for his 4-year-old year.

It's not that he snuck up on anyone. In March, he won the GII San Felipe S. at Santa Anita by eight lengths over Medina Spirit (Protonico) and was so dominant that it was easy to see him winning the GI Kentucky Derby. Maybe even the Triple Crown. Then his luck turned. He suffered a slight injury to a hind leg and had to have ankle surgery to remove a chip. The Triple Crown races were out.

Things got even more complicated when his trainer, Bob Baffert, got into hot water. The owners, WinStar Farm and the China Horse Club, pulled him out of the Baffert barn and sent him to Todd Pletcher in New York.

The result was that they had to hit the reset button. He was ready to go again, but the plan was to bring Life Is Good along slowly and start off sprinting. He ran a huge race in defeat when second behind star sprinter Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Music) in the GI H. Allen Jerkens Memorial and then beat a couple of tomato cans in the GII Kelso H.

Still not ready for a mile-and-a-quarter, Life Is Good went into the Dirt Mile instead of the GI Breeders' Cup Classic. On paper, he was easily the best horse, but he still had to prove it.

It turned into one of those races where it wasn't that he won, it was how he won. Unlike in the Classic, where no one went after Knicks Go early, Life Is Good never got a breather. Chased by the Baffert-trained Eight Rings (Empire Maker) and the Japanese entrant, Jasper Prince (Violence), Life Is Good sizzled through an opening quarter-mile in :21.88. They kept applying the pressure through a half-mile in :44.94 and six furlongs in 1:08.76. On the same day where pace pressure did in favorites Gamine (Into Mischief), Jackie's Warrior and Letruska (Super Saver), Life Is Good had every right to give up after being pushed so hard so early. Instead, he put it in another gear and drew off to win by 5 3/4 lengths. The final time for the mile was 1:34.12, good for a Beyer figure109. (Knicks Go got a 112).

“It was just an amazing race,” said WinStar President and CEO Elliott Walden. “I feel like he was one of the better horses I've ever been around. Because his season had gotten broken up, he hadn't been able to put races together back to back to back. Yesterday, to see him put it all together like that was just amazing.”

“I was a little worried,” Walden said of the fast early pace. “I was worried when Ginobili (Munnings) made a little move to him at the two-and-a-half. I knew that Ginobli loved Del Mar and he is a good horse in very good form. But then he didn't get to him and when Life Is Good spurted away I felt very good about it.”

Perhaps the only knock on Life Is Good is that he's never gone beyond a mile-and-a-sixteenth, but there's nothing to suggest that nine, and even 10, furlongs will be beyond his reach.

Walden confirmed that the Pegasus is next on Life Is Good's schedule and added that the G1 Saudi Cup is a possibility. That could be the start of a very good 4-year-old year.

In the meantime, it's tempting to look back at what might have been. This horse obviously has the talent it takes to win a Kentucky Derby. After all, he beat Medina Spirit twice, in the GIII Sham S. before thrashing him in the San Felipe. Since then, Medina Spirit won the Derby and the GI Awesome Again S. and finished second in the Classic.

Nonetheless, Walden would rather look ahead than in the rear view mirror.

“Yes, I think he is the best 3-year-old in the country and I think he showed that yesterday,” he said. “It's unfortunate that he couldn't show that in the Derby and some of the other big races we're always trying to win. But, at the same time, you take what the horse gives you. And you have to be grateful for that. He's such an athlete that we're just lucky to have him. I always felt like if you take care of the horse they will take care of you.”

Considering that he is a 3-year-old Grade I winner with a stellar pedigree, it's a relief that WinStar and the China Horse Club are going to bring Life Is Good back next year. Then again, why retire a horse when it seems like his career is just getting started? After a terrific win in the Breeders' Cup, the best is surely yet to come.

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