Life Is Good draws off to win the John A. Nerud

Life Is Good draws off to win the John A. Nerud
Photo: Sophie Shore/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM

Elmont, N.Y.

Trainer Todd Pletcher was every bit as pleased about the way Life Is Good galloped out as he was with the colt’s commanding five-length victory against Speaker’s Corner in the Grade 2, $250,000 John A. Nerud Stakeson Saturday at Belmont Park.

Pletcher noted that it took three furlongs before jockey Flavien Prat was able to persuade Life Is Good to call it a day. That spirited effort after the wire spoke well about how well the 4-year-old recovered from his disappointing fourth-place finish in the March 26 Dubai World Cup and how formidable he should be the rest of this season.  

“There was only one outcome that was okay, and that was for him to win,” Pletcher said of the seven-furlong event. “He ran against a Grade 1 winner and he drew the rail, so you worry about all those things. But he broke sharp, high cruising speed, and I love the way he galloped out.”

Elliott Walden, president of co-owner WinStar Farm, also scrutinized how powerfully Life Is Good galloped out after taking control at the start and carving out an opening quarter of a mile in 22.19 seconds and an opening half in a stiff 44.70 seconds.

“I don’t know if you saw, but he couldn’t pull him up,” Walden said. “I don’t see that he has any limitations. I’m looking forward to getting him back around two turns.”

Questions arose about Life Is Good’s ability to handle classic distance when he weakened rather dramatically in the 10-furlong World Cup. As impressive as the bay son of Into Mischief was in cruising to a 5 3/4-length score in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last November, he was not the same horse in Dubai.

After the World Cup, Pletcher suggested that the track was not to his horse’s liking. Others wondered if the speeder’s only off-the-board finish was a matter of too much ground against world-class international competition.

The Nerud, which Life Is Good completed in 1:21 3/5, will not resolve that issue. But his seventh victory in nine career starts hinted at good days to come at longer distances with the way he shook off pressure from Grade 1 winner Speaker’s Corner through that demanding opening half.

To put the outcome into perspective, it is important to understand just how good Speaker’s Corner is. The 4-year-old son of Street Sense, winner of 6 of 11 lifetime starts, rolled in the Carter Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct by registering a 114 Beyer Speed Figure, highest for any horse this season.

“He obviously wanted to try to take it to him early, but this horse’s weapon is his speed. So you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Walden said. “He’s just an incredible horse. We’re excited to see what is going to happen the rest of the year.”

Pletcher used the Nerud as a steppingstone to the prestigious 1 1/8-mile Whitney Handicap on Aug. 6 at Saratoga Race Course, a contest that will surely offer a stronger test than the five-horse Nerud.

Still, Pletcher was gratified by the Nerud outcome.

"You don’t take anything for granted. He made the long trip to Dubai and back. It was his first start off a layoff after doing that, so I’m happy he showed up and ran the way he’s capable of,” the trainer said. “I felt like he was always comfortable even though they were going pretty fast. If you’re Speaker’s Corner, you can’t let him get away the whole way. We anticipated he would try to put some pressure on us and it was legitimate pressure, 44 and change for the half.”

Pletcher acknowledged feeling a certain amount of pressure associated with Life Is Good’s return.

“These kinds of races are senses of relief when they’re finished, not ones that you’re jumping up and down and hollering and screaming and throwing your programs in the air,” he said. “I was happy to get it done.”

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