Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Elliott Walden, speaking on behalf of co-owner WinStar Farm, hinted strongly well before the 95th edition of the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney Stakes that Americanrevolution would be scratched due to the imposing presence of stablemate Life Is Good.
“When you have LeBron James,” Walden told Horse Racing Nation, “you don’t bring the 10th best player in the NBA.”
With Americanrevolution scratched on race morning, Life Is Good indeed displayed the speed and strength of the legendary LeBron with a rousing two-length victory against remaining Todd Pletcher stablemate Happy Saver in the tradition-rich Whitney. Hot Rod Charlie displayed his typical courage in finishing a head behind Happy Saver.
Pletcher breathed a sigh of relief as the hot, steamy afternoon wound down. “When you feel like you’re bringing over the best horse, you worry about everything,” he 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.”
Life Is Good’s eighth victory in 10 lifetime starts -- his third Grade 1 score -- earned a fees-paid berth for WinStar and CHC, Inc. in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Keeneland.
“It was incredible, just incredible,” Walden said. “He was the best horse coming in and the best horse coming out.”
The 1 1/8-mile Whitney represented a huge disappointment for Olympiad, who had opened his 4-year-old campaign by rattling off five consecutive victories for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, with the last four consecutive graded-stakes successes. He came in a non-menacing fourth, 9 1/4 lengths from the top while Mott, despite his many accomplishments, continues to lack a prestigious Whitney on his gaudy resume.
Jockey Junior Alvarado was perplexed that Olympiad came up so empty. “He didn’t run at all. He didn’t run his race,” Alvarado said. “Not even close.”
Olympiad defeated only Zoomer, who had been claimed for $50,000 by Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse in his previous start and ran to his 22-1 odds.
Pletcher rang up his fourth Whitney, tying him with J. Elliott Burch for second all-time, one behind John Gaver. Pletcher’s previous Whitney wins came with Left Bank (2002), Lawyer Ron (2007) and Cross Traffic (2013).
“To me, it’s the premier older horse race in the country outside of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so it means a lot,” Pletcher said.
As for the scratch of Americanrevolution, also a Grade 1 winner after capturing the Cigar Mile last December at Aqueduct, Walden said, “We just felt that Life Is Good is that good.”
And he is.
Breaking farthest outside in a compact but talent-laden field of five, jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. shook the reins to signal the 4-year-old son of Into Mischief to go, go, go. He cleared the competition in a few strides and assumed the high cruising speed that typically serves him so well.
Life Is Good posted an opening quarter of 23.64 seconds, traveled half a mile in 46.84 seconds and maintained a two-length margin over hard-trying Hot Rod Charlie through three-quarters in 1:10.93. Happy Saver took up the chase at the top of the stretch, but there was no getting to the frontrunner.
Life Is Good completed the nine furlongs in 1:48.97 on a track rated good following brief afternoon rain.
“He might make things look easy, but he was running since the three-quarter (pole) all the way to the wire,” Ortiz, Jr. said.
Teo Ah King, chairman and founder of China Horse Club (CHC, Inc.) compared the experience with Life Is Good to what he experienced with 2018 Triple Crown champion Justify.
“The journey has been a very, very exciting one,” he said. “It actually encourages many overseas people to watch American racing.”
The challenges in racing never end, of course. Pletcher still must plot the best course to the Classic, his breathtakingly fast colt must stay healthy and then there is the Classic’s arduous 10-furlong distance.
“I’m not even worried about that right now. Irad said he couldn’t even pull him up,” said Walden before leaving the winner’s circle to celebrate.