Analysis: Does Life Is Good need a race to get back in gear?

Analysis: Does Life Is Good need a race to get back in gear?
Photo: Carson Dennis/Eclipse Sportswire

Only three weeks after fading under pressure from Flightline, Speaker’s Corner has the difficult task of facing Life Is Good in the Grade 2, $250,000 John A. Nerud Stakes at Belmont on Saturday. Assuming both horses are in top form, then Life Is Good is supposed to beat him in a clean race. 

But for Life Is Good, it's important to consider the effects of making the trip to Dubai, competing in the desert and then shipping back to North America. That kind of trip can prove stressful on horses. 

Life Is Good makes his first start back on this soil after competing in the Dubai World Cup (G1) in March. Although he has had three months to rest and get back into gear for the second half of his season for trainer Todd Pletcher, it is hard to tell how the Middle East trip affected him.

For handicappers, there is no hard rule for how to approach horses returning from a hard Saudi Arabia or Dubai trip. Some horses fire off the bench upon their return from the desert with no problem. Other horses need one or two races before they return to their best form.

For example, Silver Charm won the Dubai World Cup in 1998 and went on to finish second as the heavy favorite in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G2) and a lifeless fifth in the San Diego Handicap (G3) in his next two starts. Silver Charm did return to form in his third start back from Dubai when he took the Kentucky Cup Classic Handicap (G3) at Turfway Park.

In 2004, Pleasantly Perfect won the Dubai World Cup and then lost the San Diego Handicap (G2) to the mildly talented Choctaw Nation, whose only other stakes win came in the 2005 San Diego Handicap. After losing in the San Diego, Pleasantly Perfectly came back to his best form and won the Pacific Classic (G1) before a good third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic. 

More recently, Mystic Guide won last year’s Dubai World Cup and then lost the Suburban Stakes (G2) to Max Player. Mystic Guide never raced again after the Suburban. In addition, the few American horses who finished behind Mystic Guide in the 2021 Dubai World Cup also lost their next starts.

The sixth-place Jesus’ Team went on to finish fifth in a handicap race at Gulfstream Park and eighth in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga. Like Mystic Guide, Jesus’ Team never ran again after those two puzzling efforts.

As for the 10th-place Sleepy Eyes Todd, he finished third as the heavy favorite in the Gus Fonner Stakes at lowly Fonner Park. The race at Fonner Park was only one month after Dubai. Perhaps trainer Miguel Angel Silva made a mistake in racing him so soon after the Dubai trip.  

After a layoff, Sleepy Eyes Todd did run a strong second to Art Collector in the Charles Town Classic (G2). But he never competed again. 

Life Is Good has been an excellent runner under Pletcher after his transfer from trainer Bob Baffert. His only two losses came to the brilliant Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes (G1) at Saratoga and the recent Dubai World Cup. Just blame the latter loss on the 10-furlong distance, as Life Is Good seemed to get tired toward the finish line.

Given all the examples above, Life Is Good is not a slam dunk in the John A. Nerud. Sure, he could dominate the race if he performs to the best of his abilities. But even if the horse feels fine and ready to fire, there is no incentive to empty to the tank in this Grade 2 race with bigger goals later on.

Now to discuss Speaker’s Corner, who has taken a step forward this year after showing signs of promise as a 3-year-old colt. In his first three starts of 2022, Speaker’s Corner became a machine and won the Fred W. Hooper Stakes (G3), Gulfstream Park Mile Stakes (G2) and Carter Handicap (G1).

Speaker’s Corner faded to third in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) three weeks ago, but he had the impossible task of setting the pace with the great Flightline on his tail. Once Flightline easily passed by Speaker's Corner on the turn, Speaker's Corner probably became discouraged.   

This week Speaker’s Corner faces Life Is Good, who exits the Dubai World Cup and cuts back to seven furlongs after running in longer routes recently. Although Life Is Good is naturally a better race horse, maybe Speaker’s Corner has a chance to make amends for his recent loss and catch Life Is Good off guard. For Speaker's Corner, this is a more important race to win. Life Is Good does not need to fire off the bench.   

If nothing else, the effect of racing in Dubai is something to keep in mind when analyzing Life Is Good in the John A. Nerud and determining whether low odds on him is worth it. Of course Life Is Good could win at a super short price, and he can even dominate the field, but he is not a lock with a good horse such as Speaker’s Corner in the field. 

2022 John A. Nerud (G2)

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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