By Richard Rosenblatt
Life is Good.
Grabbing the lead popping out of the gate, co-favorite Life is Good left Knicks Go and the rest of the field struggling in this wake as he swept to a 3 ¼-length victory in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
The battle lines were drawn weeks ago between speedsters Knicks Go and Life Is Good, but the anticipated duel between two of the world’s top horses never developed.
Instead, Life is Good (the slight 4-5- favorite) took charge and never relinquished the lead under Irad Ortiz, Jr., giving Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher a sweep of the World Cup and the World Cup Turf (with Colonel Liam).
“He got to the front and never slowed down,’’ Elliott Walden, president of co-owner WinStar Farm, said.
“It was a tremendous effort,’’ Pletcher said. “He’s just a genuine horse. We’ve had a lot of great ones, but I can’t think of anyone that’s better than him.”
So impressive was Life Is Good that Ortiz only needed to hand rid the 4-year-old son of Into Mischief to the wire. Winning time for the 1 1/8 miles.
“I respect the other horse a lot. I thought it was going to be a match race,” Ortiz said. “But going into the first turn, my horse was so fast, so I just let him do his thing. I felt like a lot of horse, and I couldn’t wait to let him run. I just wanted to get to the second turn. But when I let him go, he kept going.”
It was a tough final race for Knicks Go (9-10), who did not get out of the gate the way he usually does and settled into third behind Stilleto Boy. Under Joel Rosario, Knicks Go just didn’t flash the speed he’s known for and finished second.
“The trip I thought would be fine. We thought maybe we’d be on the lead. I thought Life Is Good probably had a little more speed than me,’’ Rosario said. “He ran his race. They came over a little bit on the first turn so I had to kind of just take him outside a little bit and let him relax from there, and hopefully at some point the horse would come back a little bit, but he didn’t come back. He just kept going.
“He broke well out of there, but they were quicker than me right away. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Knicks Go, winner of the Breeder’ Cup Classic (G1) and a lock for 2021 Horse of the Year, ended his racing career with a record of 25-10-5-1 and earnings of more than $9.2 million for Korea Racing Authority. Knicks Go won eight of his last 11 starts after Cox took over as his trainer.
“We were second best. No excuses,’’ trainer Brad Cox said. “He’s been super good to us. We’re proud of him and we’re happy and excited that he’s retiring sound and healthy, and I look forward to training some of his babies in a couple of years. He’s 6; it’s time for him to go off to stud. Hopefully, he’ll pass on his heart and determination and be a good sire.”
Life Is Good is a neck shy of a perfect 7-0 record, his only defeat coming in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) in his first start for Pletcher, who took over as trainer for Bob Baffert. He also won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) in his previous start before the World Cup.
A field of nine was entered, but there was little doubt this was a two-horse race, although Stilleto Boy stuck around and finished third.
Endorsed was fourth, followed by 2019 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Sir Winston, Chess Chief, Commandeer, Title Ready, and Empty Tomb.
Winning time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:48.91.
Recaps of the Pegasus Day undercard:
$1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1)
Colonel Liam ($5.20) did it again. The 5-year-old gray son of Liam’s Map took the lead from pace-setter Never Surprised around the turn into the stretch and won under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
A field of 12 took off in the 1 1/8 mile Turf with Never Surprised controlling the pace around the far turn. But Colonel Liam (the 3-2 favorite) moved into contention around the turn and cruised ahead of his stablemate to win by one length.
“I was happy with the way he was traveling early on,’’ Pletcher said. “Coming off the long layoff, you hope you’ve done enough with him. Things have to go right.”
Winning time was 1:47.48.
They did as Colonel Liam won off a nearly seven-month layoff. The horse has now won seven of 10 career starts for owner Robert and Lawana Low.
“We’ve been so proud of him,’’ Robert Low said. “When you have the best jockey and the best trainer, it’s good. And the best horse.
$500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G3):
1 1/16 miles, 4 and up fillies and mares
Regal Glory, the 4-5 favorite, swept past the leaders with a sixteenth of a mil to go, and won by 2 ½ lengths over Alms, who set the early pace. Shifty She was third.
Trained by Chad Brown, the 6-year-old daughter of Animal Kingdom was ridden by Jose Ortiz and won for the 10th time in 17 career starts for earnings of more than $1.5 million.
Beautiful Lover takes $150,000 La Prevoyante (G3)
Beautiful Lover ($10.20) moved in between the leaders in the stretch and edged Sorrel by a neck, with even-money favorite Always Shopping a head back in third.
Winning time for the 1 ½ miles on the turf was 2:30.49 over a firm course.
Always Shopping led from the start looking to win this for the second year in a row, but Beautiful Lover, with Joel Rosario aboard, won for just the second time in her last 12 starts for trainer Christophe Clement.
Abaan wins $200,000 McKnight (G3)
Abaan ($5), the 3-2 favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher, stalked the leader King Cause, then took charge in the final quarter mile and beat Temple by two lengths.
Winning time for the 1 ½ miles on turf was 2:29.53.
Just One Time triumphs in $200,000 Inside Information (G2)
Just One Time, the 3-2 favorite, took the lead near the sixteenth pole after a wide trip and won by three-quarters of a length over Four Graces.
The 4-year-old chestnut filly is trained by Brad Cox and was ridden by Joel Rosario. Pacific Gale, the defending champ, finished fifth in the final race of her career. Just One Time is now 6-for-7 in her career.
Speaker’s Corner wins $150,000 Fred Hooper (G3)
Speaker’s Corner ($5) led from the start and won by 1 ¼ lengths over favorite Fearless, who closed for second.
Winning time for the mile was 1:35.26.
Trained by Bill Mott, the 4-year-old son of Street Sense was ridden by Junior Alvarado.
At Santa Anita:
Forbidden Kingdom ($9.80) rocketed out of the starting gate and easily won the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita by 2 ¼ lengths over Pinehurst.
Ridden by Juan Hernandez, the chestnut son of American Pharoah covered 7 furlongs in 1:22.75 and stamped himself a contender for the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 9.
“He’s as quick as they come,” trainer Richard Mandella said, adding that the Derby points qualifier San Felipe Stakes (G2) could be next for his colt. “In his last race, he tore a piece of his foot off (after stumbling at the start) and then we had a quarter crack. We had to fix it up and it is good, and we hope it stays good.”
Doppelganger, the odds-on favorite for Baffert, was fourth in the five-horse field.
And at Oaklawn Park:
Bob Baffert-trained Newgrange ($5) won the Southwest Stakes (G3) by 1 ½ lengths over Barber Road. The race is a Derby points qualifier but since Baffert is suspended by Churchill Downs, none of the horses he trains are eligible for Derby consideration.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.