SARATOGA SPRINGS — What does a horse with a five-race winning streak, the last four of which were graded stakes, have to do to be a favorite?
Well, don’t run in the Whitney against Life Is Good, for one thing.
Life Is Good is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for the 95th running of the nine-furlong Grade I $1 million Whitney at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, after a six-horse field was drawn on Wednesday morning.
His top challenger is 2-1 Olympiad, who is 5-for-5 in 2022 and is coming off a strong performance at Churchill Downs on July 2 in the Grade II Stephen Foster, which had been a Grade I for 17 years before dropping back to Grade II in 2019.
On the same day, Life Is Good was winning the seven-furlong Grade II John A. Nerud by six lengths at Belmont Park in his comeback race after a fourth in the $12 million Dubai World Cup in March.
He’ll break from post No. 6 under Irad Ortiz. Jr. in a game of “Catch Me if You Can,” as Life Is Good is the one horse in the Whitney field who typically establishes the lead right out of the starting gate.
“I wasn’t really concerned too much about the post position in a compact field like this,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “After Life Is Good had drawn the rail a number of times, I thought it was nice for him to draw outside. Hopefully, he breaks like he normally does and will be forwardly placed going into the first turn.”
Scheduled post time for the Whitney is 5:39 p.m. on a card that will begin at 12:35.
The race will be shown live on NBC during a one-hour broadcast that begins at 5.
From the rail out, with jockey and odds, the field will be: 1. Americanrevolution (Luis Saez, 5-1); 2. Hot Rod Charlie (Flavien Prat, 9-2); 3. Zoomer (Joel Rosario, 30-1); 4. Olympiad (Junior Alvarado, 2-1); 5. Happy Saver (John Velazquez, 8-1); 6. Life Is Good (Irad Ortiz, Jr., 6-5).
“It’s kind of what you’d expect from a Whitney,” Pletcher said. “It’s a race loaded with Grade I winners and some of the best older horses in the world.”
Besides Life Is Good, Pletcher also trains the New York-bred Americanrevolution and Happy Saver.
All three are Grade I winners, Life Is Good in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Pegasus World Cup, Happy Saver in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont in 2020 and Americanrevolution in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in December.
Elliott Walden, CEO of WinStar Farm, co-owner of Life Is Good and Americanrevolution with CHC Inc., said there’s a possibility Americanrevolution could scratch out of the Whitney, but the spot could be appealing if Saratoga is hit with significant rain by Saturday. Americanrevolution won the Empire Classic for New York-breds by almost 12 lengths on a sloppy track at Belmont in October.
“We’ll see how it plays out,” he said. “Todd and I will huddle up on Friday and make that decision. We have Life Is Good in the race, and Americanrevolution is a horse that I think fits with the rest of them.
“Obviously, he got beat two lengths to Olympiad last time and this is his third race in the cycle. It’s tempting to run, and it’s hard to run if you don’t feel like you’re running your best horse, either.”
Americanrevolution made a solid run at Olympiad in the Stephen Foster but clearly was second best, by 2 1/4 lengths.
Like Olympiad, Happy Saver has a five-race winning streak of his own, but it came at the beginning of his 10-race career, a 4-for-4 record in 2020 capped by the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a 3-year-old, and a victory in an allowance optional claiming race to begin 2021.
He’s riding a four-race string of second-place finishes that include a loss to Olympiad in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs and a six-length defeat to Flightline in the Met Mile at Belmont.
“If the pace scenario works out and he’s able to get a good pace to run at, then I think that would help him a lot,” Pletcher said. “He’s a deserving winner of another Grade I. He was able to win the Jockey Club as a 3-year-old, which we were proud of him for doing. He’s so consistent and he tries hard every time, so, I’m hoping he’s got another one.”
As brilliant as Life Is Good has been, no one has been more consistent than Olympiad.
Trainer Bill Mott said the post position shouldn’t play into the Whitney outcome too much, since the primary early speed horse, Life Is Good, is camped on the outside.
“I guess it depends on what Hot Rod Charlie does,” Mott said. “He’s got some speed if they care to use it. Up until now, we’ve only had to deal with the horses that are in front of him — the pace horses.
“The horse to beat will probably be on the lead. Hopefully, from his post he’s [Olympiad] able to get in a good position going into the first turn, and that will make for the rest of the trip to go well. Early position is going to be important.”
Hot Rod Charlie ran well in last start, the Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park on June 18, but couldn’t quite hold off Mind Control and lost by a head.
Also in 2022, he was second to Country Grammer in the Dubai World Cup.
“It doesn’t bother him, [post] 2 is going to be good because this time I think he’s going to get out and try to sit behind Life Is Good, or maybe the opposite,” said Leandro Mora, trainer Doug O’Neill’s assistant. “I know Life Is Good is going to be the sprinter of the sprinters, but he’s going to have to rush a little more because he’s on the outside.”
The 6-year-old gelding Zoomer will be racing for the 38th time in his career.
He’s changed hands through the claim box 10 times in his career.
“I’m happy with the post,” trainer Mark Casse said. “I’m just glad we didn’t draw 1. It’s an extremely talented field, and he’ll have to run the race of his life to be competitive. I’ve got him in maybe the best hands there is in the game. I’ll let Joel [Rosario] play it out.”