SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was a conclusion, or an observation. But it also came across like a warning, perhaps.
A scenario was proposed on Wednesday morning to trainer Todd Pletcher in which a horse might attempt to put pressure on Life Is Good around the first turn in Saturday’s 95th running of the Whitney at Saratoga Race Course.
Pletcher’s dry response amounted to, “Yeah, I would say that anybody who wants to go with Life Is Good early on is probably going to be compromised in the end.”
So, maybe don’t do that.
The 4-year-old son of Into Mischief is 6-5 on the morning line for the nine-furlong $1 million Whitney against five rivals that include two of Life Is Good’s stablemates, Happy Saver and Americanrevolution.
Also signed on are 2-1 Olympiad, who is 5-for-5 in 2022 coming off a win in the Grade II Stephen Foster; Hot Rod Charlie; and the 30-1 long shot Zoomer, a 6-year-old jumping into the Whitney having run in just three stakes in his entire 37-race career.
Scheduled post time for the Whitney is 5:43 p.m. The race will be shown live during a one-hour NBC broadcast at 5.
Life Is Good will break from the No. 6 post under Irad Ortiz, Jr. and is expected to establish the early pace, as he always does.
Then it’s a matter of who has enough chase left in him to mount a challenge when they come down the homestretch.
In his seven career victories, which include the $3 million Grade I Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January, Life Is Good has led at every call.
In his last start, the Grade II John A. Nerud over seven furlongs at Belmont Park, Life Is Good won under a hand ride from Flavien Prat — who was subbing for the suspended Ortiz — while making a Grade I winner, Speaker’s Corner, look ordinary.
That was Life Is Good’s first race since a fourth to Country Grammer in the $12 million Dubai World Cup.
“We felt like we needed a segue from Dubai to the Whitney,” Pletcher said at Wednesday’s Whitney draw. “Looking at the timing of it, the Nerud, spacing-wise, worked out really well. It gave him time to get over the Dubai trip and also it gave him good spacing to the Whitney.
“Coming back from Dubai and going to the Whitney without a race under his belt might not be taking our best shot at it. I’m glad it worked out. He ran a super race in the Nerud and has trained really, really well.”
“He’s a natural athlete and they’re very hard to come by,” said Elliott Walden, CEO of WinStar Farm, which co-owns Life Is Good with the China Horse Club. “There’s good horses and there’s exceptional horses, and Life Is Good is an exceptional horse.”
In nine career starts, Life Is Good has run longer than a mile just twice, in the nine-furlong Pegasus World Cup and the mile-and-a-sixteenth San Felipe at Santa Anita. He won that race by eight lengths in March of 2021 to stamp himself as a top contender for the Kentucky Derby, but was out of commission due to injury until his comeback at Saratoga in the Allen Jerkens off a 5 1/2-month layoff.
That became one of the highlights of Travers Day and the 2021 meet, as Life Is Good lost to eventual male sprint champion Jackie’s Warrior by a neck.
Life Is Good closed the 2021 season with wins in the Kelso at Belmont and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, both by more than five lengths.
He comes into the Whitney off a series of flawless works that have drawn raves from Pletcher every time.
“We circled this race last year when we decided to keep him in training,” Walden said. “We’re here, and he’s doing great. We’re really excited about running him on Saturday. He’s a horse that is so consistent day in and day out in his training, so we’re looking for a big race for Life Is Good.”
“In the Nerud last time, Speaker’s Corner was coming off some big races, and he just took it to him,” Pletcher said. “He’s got so much natural speed and such a high-cruising speed. His ability to carry it over a distance of ground is what makes him so unique and so successful.”
The Bill Mott-trained Olympiad has been a model of consistency himself, having won four straight graded stakes, two of which, the Stephen Foster and New Orleans Classic at Fair Grounds, came at the Whitney distance of nine furlongs.
He broke his maiden at Saratoga in 2020, but his 2021 season amounted to an allowance win in October and a fourth to Americanrevolution in the Grade I Cigar Mile in December.
“You never know how good you are until you try the best, so I guess it’s time to step up to the plate,” Mott said. “He’s 5-for-5 this year and we’ve got to take them on. Everybody is talking about Life Is Good and Flightline, and they’re great horses, but the only way we can reverse that conversation and get included in that conversation is by running against them.”
“We were really excited about him as a 2-year-old,” co-owner Robert Clay told the New York Racing Association. “He won up here, and then he had a setback his 3-year-old year so we lost some time. We weren’t sure what we had until he came back and won at Keeneland and then went in the Cigar Mile, where he had an unfortunate trip.
“When you get a good 2-year-old that you think might be on the Derby trail and you have a setback, you just have to take the attitude that he’s getting the time he needs. We knew he had talent and we brought him back when he was ready.
“He loves the two turns, and it seems like the longer he goes, the better. He sort of has it all, so now we’re running against the gorilla in the room and find out how good he is.”
“Olympiad’s on a tremendous streak, he’s a very good horse, so, yeah, you’ve got to give him all the respect,” Pletcher said.
If anyone goes after Life Is Good out of the starting gate, the likely candidate is Hot Rod Charlie, who adds blinkers for the Whitney.
“I think we’ll have to send [out of the gate] a little, and I think that’s a good thing,” co-owner Bill Strauss said. “Charlie seems to do better when he’s on the front end. He seems like maybe he’s a tougher horse to pass than maybe liking to pass horses, so I think this will force our hand a little bit and that might be a good thing.”
“That will be up to Flavien, but my personal vision is to lay second to the fastest horse to take the lead, then try to do his best on the far end,” said Leandro Mora, trainer Doug O’Neill’s assistant.
“Small field, but a bunch of champions in it, so it’s tougher. But we think he’s overdue for one, for his ability he has.”