July 19, 2024

Life Is Good makes it look easy in Kelso; Pocket Square gives Brown milestone in Athenia

Life Is Good outclasses a short field in the Kelso (Chelsea Durand/Coglianese Photos)

Saturday’s $279,000 Kelso H. (G2) was a cakewalk for 1-20 favorite Life Is Good, who breezed through his Breeders’ Cup tune-up against three overmatched rivals at Belmont Park.

Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm runner was ridden for the first time by Irad Ortiz. Life Is Good set a more measured pace here than in his Aug. 28 comeback in the Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1), where he blazed early and succumbed late to Jackie’s Warrior.

No opponent of that caliber turned up for the Kelso. Only four entered, and one scratched. Informative stayed at his home base instead for the Parx Dirt Mile and wound up trailing the field.

Life Is Good never had an anxious moment. The Into Mischief colt grabbed the lead and carved out an opening quarter in :23.53. Chance It, the 10-1 second choice, kept close tabs until unfortunately pulling up with an injury.

The 25.50-1 Fort Peck took up the job of chasing Life Is Good, but the favorite was still on cruise control through splits of :46.58 and 1:10.24. Doubly Blessed cut the corner turning for home in an unsuccessful attempt to improve position.

Life Is Good changed leads on cue upon straightening and drew off with authority. Extending his advantage to 5 1/2 lengths, the bay reeled off the one-turn mile in a brisk 1:34.37.

Fort Peck was a clear second by 3 3/4 lengths from Doubly Blessed. Chance It was vanned off with an injured left front tendon.

Now 4-for-5 lifetime, Life Is Good has bankrolled $539,200.

“He’s been training super,” Pletcher told NYRA publicity, “and we were looking forward to getting him going again. I thought he was very impressive.

“I left it in Irad’s hands,” he added regarded tactics. “We weren’t going to send him away from there, but it looked on paper like he was the main speed. What we were focused on was getting him to settle a little bit, stay on the rail and relax. I thought he did that beautifully today.

“He asked him to run a little bit at the top of the stretch and wrapped up on him late. He galloped out well.” 

Ortiz’s summary was as straightforward as his trip.

“He’s a nice horse. He went fast and he kept going,” Ortiz said. “He did everything smooth and easy. 

“As soon as I asked him, he took off. He responded really well.”

The onetime Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite knocked off the trail in March, Life Is Good at that time was trained by Bob Baffert. The $525,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase had elicited comparisons to Baffert’s 2020 Kentucky Derby winner, Authentic, after following the same trajectory at the beginning of his career.

Life Is Good made a brilliant debut sprinting at Del Mar’s Bing Crosby season last November, passed his two-turn test in the Sham (G3), and stayed perfect in the San Felipe (G2). As he limbered up with WinStar’s farm trainer Destin Heath this summer, and neared a return to the racetrack, connections opted to send him to Pletcher.

The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) back at Del Mar is on his itinerary, although Pletcher didn’t totally eliminate considering the Classic (G1) in his postrace interview on “America’s Day at the Races.” That said, stretching out to 1 1/4 miles off a pair of one-turn preps is likely not as appealing as the gradual progression to the two-turn Dirt Mile.

“That’s what we had talked about prior to this race,” Pletcher said to NYRA regarding the Dirt Mile target. “I’ll assess how he comes out of it and talk to the connections.”

Bred by Gary and Mary West Stable in Kentucky, Life Is Good was produced by the Distorted Humor mare Beach Walk. His second dam, Grade 1-placed stakes scorer Bonnie Blue Flag, is a half to multiple Grade 1 queen Diamondrella.

Athenia (G3)

Ortiz later made it a graded double in the $194,000 Athenia (G3), likewise on an odds-on favorite in Pocket Square. The Juddmonte homebred handed trainer Chad Brown a milestone 100th Belmont Park graded stakes score.

The paceless race turned into a sprint to the wire, which suited the 0.45-1 choice. Parked in fourth as the 24.75-1 longest shot on the board, Stand for the Flag, dictated fractions of :25.30, :51.41, and 1:16.71 on the good inner turf, Pocket Square swooped in the lane. The British import crossed the wire 2 1/2 lengths clear of Brown stablemate Miss Teheran, who was found to have bled.

Lake Lucerne tracked in second early, but was outkicked late and wound up third. Made in Italy checked in fourth, and Stand for the Flag was a tailed-off last of five. The main-track-only Spice Is Nice stayed in the barn.

“She did everything right,” Ortiz said of Pocket Square. “She broke and relaxed. She waited on me to call on her to run and when I asked her, she took off. She looked like much the best.

“I only used the stick a couple of times and that was it. She was moving comfortably so I didn’t need to do much.”

Pocket Square covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.19 to enhance her resume to 9-5-0-1, $293,956. The Night of Thunder filly was winning her first stakes race since the 2019 Prix des Reservoirs (G3), when based with British trainer Roger Charlton. Pocket Square’s lone start of 2020 was a subpar last in the Musidora (G3) at York.

In her stateside debut for Brown, the chestnut created quite an impression in an April 7 Keeneland allowance conquest. But she didn’t back that up at the Grade 1 level, winding up fifth in both the Just a Game (G1) and Diana (G1). A return to allowance company at Saratoga Aug. 25 restored her confidence.

“In hindsight, I rushed her along a little bit,” Brown said. “She had that explosive run at Keeneland and I’ve done that before, where I run them in a race like the Just a Game off an effort like that and won. When it works out well, you feel like a hero. When it doesn’t work out, you have to go back to the drawing board, which I had to do. I probably should have brought her along just a little bit slower after that Keeneland race and not throw her in the deep end of the pool, but that’s past us now and we have her back on track with a couple of really nice wins.”

Brown has a pattern of using the Athenia as a springboard to the Matriarch (G1), so Pocket Square could be seen at Del Mar on Nov. 28.

“Where we go from here, I’m not too sure,” the trainer said. “I’ll see how she comes out of the race and speak with (Juddmonte general manager) Garrett O’Rourke in Kentucky. It looks like we have a fine filly for next year as well.”

Commenting on his 100 Belmont graded wins, Brown graciously shared the credit far and wide:

“So many great memories. What an achievement for my team, my owners, and my horses throughout the years that have run so hard. A big thank you to NYRA for providing me and my horses such great facilities to train and race on through the years. They have been instrumental in developing my business. I couldn’t have possibly grown the business to this level without the cooperation of NYRA and all of their facilities, which have been extremely accommodating to us.”

Pocket Square is a half-sister to recent Chester S. winner Yesyes, third in the Sept. 12 Park Hill (G2) in her latest, and to Sand Share, another Group 2-placed at Doncaster when third in the 2018 May Hill (G2). Their dam, the multiple French stakes-placed Shared Account by Dansili, is a full sister to Group 1 victor Zambezi Sun.