Life Is Good didn't run straight down the stretch of the $301,000 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, but despite drifting out he ran away from the competition to score by eight lengths over stablemate Medina Spirit.
The Into Mischief colt, owned by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, gave trainer Bob Baffert his eighth victory in the San Felipe and his fourth over its last six runnings. His starters ran 1-2 Saturday.
Last year, Baffert won the San Felipe with Authentic, who went on to win an edition of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve postponed by COVID-19, giving the Hall of Fame trainer a record-tying sixth Derby win.
Baffert and trainer Brad Cox have the most talent and depth among 3-year-olds preparing for this year's run for the roses. Besides Life Is Good and Medina Spirit, Baffert also has Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes winner Concert Tour and Grade 3 Southwest Stakes runner-up Spielberg as Derby prospects.
Of Baffert's group, none possess the speed of Life Is Good — which was on display in the San Felipe. Busting out from the inside post under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the colt took charge with quarter-mile fractions of :23.63 and :46.83. He then broke the race open with three-quarters in 1:10.55, at which point he began to widen his lead of three lengths, while his opponents were being asked to keep up.
From there to the finish in the 1 1/16-mile race, it was simply a question of whether Life Is Good would shorten stride, as he had in a prior three-quarter-length victory over Medina Spirit in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes Jan. 2. He did not, remaining strong with a mile in 1:35.46 and finishing with a final time of 1:42.18. His clocking was the fastest in the race since the Baffert-trained Dortmund won the 2015 San Felipe in 1:41.65.
This came under limited urging from Smith, who hand rode the favorite and gave him periodic taps of his riding crop on the shoulder.
Smith said Life Is Good ($3) was distracted by the broadcast of the race that appeared on the giant infield television.
"Whenever they're running, he sees himself running — he thinks it's just a big ol' dinosaur next to him, I guess," the jockey said. "He gets to looking at it; that's what he's doing down the lane."
Zedan Racing Stables' Medina Spirit, hard held early by John Velazquez to avoid engaging Life Is Good, chased in second down the backstretch. He was passed on the second turn by Dream Shake before he managed to come back and finish 2 1/4 lengths in front of that third-place rival at the finish.
The latter was racing in a stakes race and in a route for the first time after a debut maiden win at 6 1/2 furlongs.
The order of finish was rounded out by Roman Centurian, The Great One, None Above the Law, and Govenor's Party.
Roman Centurian and The Great One turned in uninspired efforts after previously placing in graded stakes during the winter in Southern California.
The performances by the Baffert duo earned them 50 and 20 qualifying points toward the Derby, respectively. Dream Shake earned 10 and Roman Centurian picked up 5.
Life Is Good, 3-for-3 with earnings of $274,200, is second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 60 overall points. Medina Spirit is fifth with 34.
"I've always thought, you know, [Life Is Good] could be a super horse — we'll find out today," Baffert said. "At the quarter-pole, I could tell he was just still cruising, just doing it easy. I just feel fortunate that I have this horse in my barn. And my horse that ran second — he's a really nice horse. I felt bad having to run him against [Life Is Good], but they need these races and I didn't want to ship yet."
Smith wore the red and gold silks of China Horse Club — who, along with WinStar Farm, were among the owners in 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, also trained by Baffert.
Kenny Trout, owner of WinStar Farm, traveled from Texas to California to watch Life Is Good.
"It's just amazing. He's been a great horse," Trout said from the winner's circle.
Bred by Gary and Mary West Stable in Kentucky, Life Is Good is the second foal and winner out of the Distorted Humor mare Beach Walk. Her other winner is Approved (by Awesome Again), an earner of $24,978, and she also has an unnamed yearling filly by Blame .
China Horse Club and Maverick Racing bought Life is Good for $525,000 from Paramount Sales' consignment to the 2019 Keeneland September yearling sale.