Saratoga Race Course

Life Is Good takes command and never lets go to win 95th Whitney

Life is Good and jockey Irad Ortiz head toward the wire to win the Whitney at Saratoga on Saturday.
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Life is Good and jockey Irad Ortiz head toward the wire to win the Whitney at Saratoga on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — It wasn’t a masterpiece.

It didn’t need to be.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said last weekend he’d never seen Life Is Good have a bad day, and Saturday was no different.

But only one factor mattered this time, and aesthetics wasn’t it. Compared to the workouts and preparation Life Is Good had flawlessly performed at Saratoga Race Course leading up to the 95th $1 million Grade I Whitney, hitting the wire first was the only acceptable outcome.

And Life Is Good did that, over a tough track that had taken some rain on a sweltering day, steered by jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. in front of stablemate Happy Saver at the eighth pole and ultimately proving to be the best horse on the track and perhaps in the country.

He won by two lengths over Happy Saver, and Hot Rod Charlie was well clear of the rest of the field in third while finishing a head behind Happy Saver.

“When you feel like you’re bringing over the best horse, you worry about everything,” Pletcher said. “Today we got the rain, the deep track, the heat and humidity. All those things can be concerning, but he was able to overcome all of that and just show how brilliant he really is.”

“He stayed and just never quit,” Ortiz said. “He was in control, and the horse deserves all the credit. I just ride him, and he was in the front the whole time.”

That came as no surprise to anyone who had seen Life Is Good race.

In typical fashion, he broke sharply from the outside of a field that was reduced to five horses by the scratch of Americanrevolution and immediately took command on the front.

The plan was to establish that position early, then start an extended finishing move at the three-eighths pole, Pletcher said.

Life Is Good had other ideas, Ortiz said, beginning that push prematurely, which forced the jockey to decide whether to discourage the move to some degree.

Instead, he trusted his horse’s exceptional ability.

“He deserves all the credit,” Ortiz said. “He does things easy. He might make things look easy, but he was running since the three-quarter [pole] all the way to the wire. He was the speed of the race, honestly. He’s fast out of the gate. He broke good and then I just let him do his thing.

“When we got to the three-quarter pole and along the backside he changed leads, and he just took off. Two jumps. He was strong. After that, I didn’t want to fight too much with him and he surprised me today. I just started to let him do his thing. It was a little early but I had just a little hold of him. I can’t fight too much with him.”

Although Life Is Good’s lead was never seriously threatened, there was still a little bit of messy  business in the stretch, after Life Is Good had angled into the four path off the turn to create an opening for Happy Saver and jockey John Velazquez on the inside. Hot Rod Charlie and Flavien Prat chased Life Is Good’s flank from the outside.

At the eighth pole, Ortiz steered Life Is Good toward the rail, and Velazquez immediately tipped Happy Saver to the outside, while clear of making contact between the two.

A stride or two later, Ortiz snuck a peek behind.

“He [Life Is Good] was two lengths in front of me, there was nothing I could do,” Velazquez said. “Even if I claimed foul there was nothing they were going to do — he was clear. Obviously, he was really clear when he went in and I pulled mine out and that was it. We just switched positions, that’s all it was. He was that clear when he went in that I went outside with no trouble at all.”

“I was clear,” Ortiz said. “I looked and came down a little bit. I know if he felt somebody that he would give me another run and more. I know he’s coming back a little, the track is not that fast, so if he feels somebody he will fight. I know he will fight, so that is why I was looking.”

“Happy Saver ran super,” Pletcher said. “It looked like for a second like he was going to get right there. Johnny said when he had to angle him off the rail, you could tell Life Is Good kind of found a little more.”

That was Prat’s observation aboard Hot Rod Charlie, also.

“Turning for home, I thought he was going to give me a good kick,” he said. “He made a good run, but the winner never stopped.”

The Bill Mott-trained Olympiad, who came into the Whitney undefeated from five starts in 2022, most recently the Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, had a wide trip under Junior Alvarado and was never a threat in finishing fourth.

“He didn’t run at all,” Alvarado said. “Not even close. At the half-mile I knew I was in trouble. He wasn’t traveling or picking it up like he normally does.

“I gave him a chance to regroup at the three-eighths and start picking it up again to see if he would start doing it, and nothing. At that point I knew he wasn’t showing up. No excuses for the track. Good horses are supposed to handle the track and anything else. If he had a problem with the track he should at least try to the eighth-pole, but he was done very early for me.”

Pletcher won the Whitney for the fourth time, following Cross Traffic in 2013, Lawyer Ron in 2007 and Left Bank in 2002.

Flightline, who is scheduled to run in the Pacific Classic on Sept. 3, looms on the West Coast, but for now the Life Is Good camp is justified in claiming to have the leader among older male dirt route horses.

“To me this is the premier older horse race in the country outside of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so it means a lot,” Pletcher said.

“We felt like he was the best horse all along, and he showed it today,” co-owner Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm said.

Categories: At The Track, Sports

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