While Pennsylvania will be the focus of attention this weekend for the 3-year-old crop, another sophomore runner of note will be continuing his comeback in New York.
After a highly promising runner-up finish in the Aug. 28 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1), while racing after nearly six months on the sidelines, Life Is Good will face older horses for the first time, running in the one-mile $300,000 Kelso Handicap (G2) Sept. 25 at Belmont Park.
"As great as he ran last time, you're always concerned if they will run as well or better the next time, but he's trained like he's ready to roll," said Todd Pletcher, who trains the 3-year-old grade 2 winner for China Horse Club and WinStar Farm.
That last race was indeed impressive.
Back in March, the undefeated Life Is Good was one of the most—if not the most-heavily touted—Triple Crown candidates. Then ankle chips sidelined him for nearly six months and the owners switched trainers, shifting him from Bob Baffert's barn to Pletcher's. The Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga Race Course was chosen as his return to the races, and it was a highly viable plan. Except that the multiple grade 1 winner Jackie's Warrior also targeted the seven-furlong Jerkens.
Life Is Good, with a 3-for-3 record before the race, turned in a superb effort, but wound up second. After leading on the turn, the son of Into Mischief was passed in the stretch and then battled back in the final yards to lose by a neck to Jackie's Warrior, the current favorite for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) who will also be racing Saturday as an odds-on favorite in the Gallant Bob Stakes (G2) on a Parx Racing card that also includes Triple Crown runners-up Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1).
"We were giving up a lot of recency to a real nice horse and I thought he ran terrific (in the Jerkens) and came out of it in good shape," Pletcher said. "He's trained how you would expect him to since then."
Since Life Is Good is already a graded stakes winner around two turns, the Oct. 2 Woodward Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles and Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) seemed like possible options after the Jerkens. But due to all the lost training time, Pletcher said the two-turn Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Del Mar will be next if the son of the Distorted Humor mare Beach Walk runs to expectations Saturday.
"We've talked about this as a prep for the Dirt Mile and we hope he keeps moving in that direction," Pletcher said about the $525,000 purchase from Paramount Sales' consignment to the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. "This gives him a little more time to the Breeders' Cup and we felt having the one seven-furlong race since March that it made more sense to gradually stretch him out, rather than go straight to a mile-and-an-eighth (in the Woodward)."
Though the stars of the 3-year-old division will be battling without him at Parx around two turns in a grade 1 stakes Saturday afternoon, once 2022 rolls around they could very well have to contend with Life Is Good in rich races such as the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) and Saudi Cup (G1).
"The conversation I've had with the connections indicate those are the races we're talking about," Pletcher said about the Pegasus and Saudi Cup. "So we're hopeful, should the Kelso go well and the Breeders' Cup go well, that the Pegasus would be the next target."
While the Kelso will be at the same distance as the Dirt Mile, it will offer a different trip around the racetrack than the one at the World Championships. While the Nov. 6 Dirt Mile will be a two-turn journey around Del Mar, the Kelso will be contested over one turn at the 1 1/2-mile oval at Belmont Park.
Irad Ortiz Jr. will be aboard Life Is Good for the first time, replacing Mike Smith.
Only four rivals turned out to face Life Is Good Saturday, topped by Shooting Star Thoroughbreds' Chance It .
Trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., the grade 1-placed, multiple stakes-winning Florida-bred son of Currency Swap has four firsts and four seconds in 10 career starts. He is coming off a third in the Forego Stakes (G1), 2 1/2 lengths behind Yaupon .
The field also includes Doubly Blessed, who was seventh in the Forego, Informative, who was seventh in the Charles Town Classic Stakes (G2), and Fort Peck, an easy winner of a $50,000 claimer in his last start.
Though Life Is Good is the lone 3-year-old among the five starters and 3-year-olds generally receive three pounds from older rivals in the weights at this time of year, he will tote the co-highweight of 119 pounds along with Chance It.
Due to the small field, the Kelso will be contested as the fourth race (2:34 p.m. post time) on an 11-race program that starts at 1 p.m.
Belmont Park, Saturday, September 25, 2021, Race 4
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Fort Peck (KY) Ramon A. Vazquez 116 Robertino Diodoro 15/1 2 2Life Is Good (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 119 Todd A. Pletcher 1/9 3 3Chance It (FL) Manuel Franco 119 Saffie A. Joseph, Jr. 4/1 4 4Informative (KY) Eric Cancel 117 Uriah St. Lewis 30/1 5 5Doubly Blessed (KY) Javier Castellano 117 Michael J. Maker 10/1
Belmont Park, Saturday, September 25, 2021, Race 4