Twelve months ago, Authentic joined the Kentucky Derby trail with a smashing 7 3/4-length victory in the Sham S. (G3) at Santa Anita.
The Bob Baffert-trained colt went on to post four more stakes wins, including the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and Authentic is expected to be named 2020 Horse of the Year at the Jan. 28 Eclipse Award ceremonies.
Life Is Good is following the same path as Authentic, but he wasn’t as flashy taking the Jan. 2 Sham S., scoring by nearly a length. However, the well-regarded colt faced deeper competition in runner-up Medina Spirit, who wound up 13 lengths clear of third. The top two finishers are both trained by Hall of Famer Baffert, who will be seeking his seventh Kentucky Derby trophy this spring.
The 147th running of the Kentucky Derby will be held on Saturday, May 1, 2021 at Churchill Downs.
Inaugurated in 2001, the Sham had no impact upon the Triple Crown in the first 19 runnings. That changed with Authentic, the first Kentucky Derby winner for leading sire Into Mischief.
Life Is Good is also a son of the prolific Into Mischief, who is poised to make a major impact through his offspring in 2021 Road to the Kentucky Derby series prep races.
Authentic won his first start by 1 1/2 lengths over 5 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar, and there wasn’t much buzz when the front-running colt made his stakes and two-turn debut in the Sham.
Life Is Good brought hype to his initial stakes attempt – Thoroughbred racing enthusiasts tuned in to see the next potential superstar from the Baffert barn. He captivated audiences with an eye-catching performance at first asking, generating a whopping 100 Brisnet Speed rating for a 9 1/2-length, wire-to-wire maiden triumph over 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar on Nov. 22.
As a result, Life Is Good was bet down to 8-1 favoritism among individual interests in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. That’s unprecedented support for a maiden winner – Life Is Good is tied with 2018 champion 2-year-old Game Winner for the lowest individual odds in the seven-year history of Pool 1.
Owned by WinStar Farm and the China Horse Club, Life Is Good’s female family is slanted toward longer distances – he’s out of a Distorted Humor mare and counts Mineshaft and Dixieland Band as the second and third maternal broodmare sires. But after showing high speed in a sprint, Life Is Good still needed to prove himself at two turns.
Bet down to 1-5 favoritism in the Sham, Life Is Good didn’t crush foes at the mile distance. He sped clear from the starting gate, controlling the tempo unopposed, and led by four lengths in upper stretch. But things got interesting late as the fast-closing Medina Spirit just missed catching him on the wire.
As a result, his two-turn debut didn’t elicit rave reviews. Life Is Good drifted out late, and his Speed ratings decreased slightly (98), but the bay sophomore wasn’t seriously asked, either. In fact, jockey Mike Smith confidently handled his mount the entire way, similar to his ride upon Authentic in last year’s Haskell (G1).
“He didn’t know what he was doing going twice around, and he just got the lead and was looking out at the infield on the big screen,” Smith said. “He could see himself, and he got to looking, but I was watching as well so I saw the horse coming on the outside. I didn’t want to panic, I just showed it (the stick) to him a little bit. What I liked really was after the race, when I stood up and the (other) horse got next to me, he jumped back in the bridle and I mean I had to pull him up.”
With a different trainer, Life Is Good may have drawn more negative reactions. But it’s early in the process, and Baffert has won a record 16 Triple Crown races. The Sham served as an educational experience for his star pupil, and Baffert came away encouraged by the effort.
“Medina (Spirit) is a nice horse – he’s a good horse – and I could tell that Mike was just cruising out there,” Baffert said. “I always feel that the second race is most important. You’re going up against winners. I think Mike did a great job, just sort of cruising out there and it was just the kind of race we were looking for. They ran pretty fast…It is so exciting he passed the two-turn test.”
I’m not putting anything past Baffert. He knows how to toughen up talented young horses, enabling them to thrive when the lights are the brightest. My doubts surrounding Authentic’s affinity for longer distances proved unfounded, and Baffert will work on teaching Life Is Good to settle during the early stages.
The next prep race will be more telling.
Medina Spirit looks like a savvy $35,000 2-year-old in training purchase for Zedan Racing Stables. The Florida-bred lacks a commercial pedigree – he’s by Protonico and out of a Brilliant Speed mare – but certainly has some talent.
A front-running, three-length debut winner at Los Alamitos in mid-December, Medina Spirit moved forward with another strong performance in the Sham. His Speed ratings are improving (94-97), and longer distances may be no issue given his stamina-infused bloodlines.
As part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the Sham awarded points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four.
Parx shipper Capo Kane posted a minor upset in the Jerome S. at Aqueduct on New Year’s Day, turning back multiple challengers before drawing off to a 6 1/4-length decision. Trained by Harold Wyner, the California-bred colt was exiting a 4 1/2-length, wire-to-wire maiden tally at Parx in his second start.
By 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Capo Kane is out of a Hard Spun mare. He apparently didn’t vet well at a 2-year-old sale, selling for only $32,000 in late June. Turf will always be an option with his pedigree – he’s from the immediate female family of Grade 1-winning millionaire Tuzla – and Capo Kane picked up 10 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth in the Jerome.
One of the most historic races in New York, the Jerome has had no impact since being moved to January in 2013. However, the Count Fleet S. used to be run in the same spot on the calendar, and 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones captured the Count Fleet before heading to Arkansas.
Capo Kane has yet to try two turns yet. His inexperience showed in the latter stages of the Jerome, drifting out while widening his advantage, and his 87 Brisnet Speed rating came back a little light.
The first of three qualifiers at Fair Grounds, Saturday’s $200,000 Lecomte S. (G3) has attracted Mandaloun. Trained by Brad Cox, the Into Mischief colt will bring a 2-for-2 record into his stakes debut, most recently winning a salty entry-level allowance at Churchill Downs in late November.
Mandaloun, who registered a field-best 92 Speed rating last time, will meet 10 rivals in the 1 1/16-mile Lecomte.