Life Is Good drew well clear of the field in the Kentucky Derby betting after his sensational victory in the 2021 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park on March 6. He is now half the price of his closest rival. He showed his lack of experience by losing focus and looking at the screen in the stretch but taking an indirect path to the wire did not stop him winning easily by eight lengths under jockey Mike Smith for WinStar Farm and China Horse Club.
It was only his third start so he had reason to run green. His triumph gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his eighth win in this prestigious grade 2 contest run over a mile and a sixteenth with a prize fund of $301,000. He also saddled the runner-up, Medina Spirit for Zedan Racing Stables who has seen the back end of Life Is Good before. He was beaten by him in the Sham Stakes in January by less than a length. That was a grade 3 run over a mile at the same track and Life Is Good looked to tire in the closing stages, his stride shortened significantly in the stretch.
There was no visible sign of fatigue as he powered across the wire in the San Felipe under an almost motionless Smith. Life Is Good started as the heavy favorite with the USA racebooks and performed like one, always appearing to be in command and demonstrating his ability to maintain a speed that made talented rivals look rather slow. Smith seemed to expend more energy pulling Life Is Good up after the race than he did during it.
Bettors are understandably thinking that this super-talented colt can follow in the footsteps of Baffert’s 2020 San Felipe winner Authentic who subsequently triumphed in the Run for the Roses. Life Is Good is now the 2/1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby betting. Like Authentic, Life Is Good is a son of the extraordinarily successful sire Into Mischief. Bred by Gary and Mary West Stables, he is out of a Distorted Humor mare and was purchased for $525,000 as a yearling. Life Is Good is a sizeable unit that must have caught the eye at the sales but never raced as a juvenile. The patience of his owners and trainer have been rewarded.
How did the race unfold?
Life Is Good jumped so quickly from his inside post that Smith appeared to lose his grip on the right rein. His yellow-sleeved arm can be seen dropping to his colt’s shoulder but he soon regained contact. It was the left rein that he needed when Life Is Good had a look at the clock on the infield as he passed it going into the first turn.
Smith managed to keep him tight to the rail while his speedy barnmate Medina Spirit powered forward from his wide draw to keep him company at the head of the pack under John Velazquez. The Great One was keen to share the action and raced three wide in third by half a length under Abel Cedillo. Dream Shake grabbed the rail behind the leading trio with Governor’s Party alongside. None Above The Law and Roman Centurion formed the third row in the pack of seven.
While Smith cruised along, setting early fractions of 23.63 and 46.83 Velazquez’s arm strength was tested as he gradually restrained Medina Spirit to avoid a suicidal battle with his barnmate. At the quarter pole Life Is Good had a lead of three and a half lengths. That lead just kept growing with minimal visible movement from Smith while all the other jockeys were hard at work, pushing frantically. His winning time of 1.42.18 was the fastest posted since Dortmund won the race for Baffert in 2015 in 1.41.65.
Medina Spirit occupied the second spot for most of the race but was briefly headed on the final turn by Peter Eurton’s Dream Shake. Joel Rosario had taken the shortest route throughout on Dream Shake but Medina Spirit fought back bravely to repel his challenge in the stretch and finished two lengths ahead of him.
At that stage it became apparent that the others were destined for minor money and it was Roman Centurian who took fourth in front of The Great One who was fifth, beaten nearly 17 lengths. The two outsiders, None Above The Law and Govenor’s Party completed in that order, exactly as their starting prices suggested, with Govenor’s Party a distance behind having been eased when any chance of a placing was gone. Bettors had correctly predicted the chances of each horse in the field of seven and the result reflected their popularity in the betting perfectly.
Baffert was delighted with both his trainees, his only regret was having to race them against each other. He intends to give Life Is Good his fourth experience of racing in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3. His colt needs to become accustomed to seeing himself on a big screen but does not have to chase Kentucky Derby qualifying points as he shares a total of 60 with Greatest Honour. Brad Cox’s Mandaloun is next with 52 but is not fancied to score in the Run For The Roses unlike his barnmate Essential Quality, the second favorite in the Kentucky Derby betting lines, who is ranked sixth on the board with 40 points.
Greatest Honour gained his position on the leaderboard after his dramatic Fountain of Youth Stakes win at Gulfstream Park on February 27. He started as the evens favorite but seemed slightly outpaced as he trailed the field by eight lengths while Saffie Joseph’s very useful Drain The Clock set a strong gallop. Greatest Honour’s trainer Shug McGaughey and his many bettors were seriously worried when he had plenty to do approaching the final turn. His jockey Jose Ortiz had to get extremely animated but eventually achieved the desired result, passing the long-time leader in the stretch. Greatest Honour needed every yard of the mile and a sixteenth distance to assert his superiority and win by a length and a half.
The Kentucky Derby looks likely to be a battle between Baffert and Cox trainees but Life Is Good definitely deserves his position at the head of the market if he can continue to progress.