Heavily Favored Life Is Good passed his first two-turn test and improved to 2-for-2 in the $100,000, Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park Jan. 2, though a diminishing three-quarter-length margin of victory suggests the promising 3-year-old may still be in need of fine-tuning.
His performance was similar in some ways to that of Authentic, another son of leading sire Into Mischief for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, in winning the same race last year.
Like Authentic, his talent and natural speed put him on the lead, but inexperience seemingly led to a loss of focus in the stretch, putting stablemate Medina Spirit in a position to cut into his advantage late.
The winner races for owners WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, two of the owners of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, also trained by Baffert.
Baffert and winning rider Mike Smith were all smiles in the winner’s circle, complimentary of Life Is Good’s performance as the building block the race was designed to be, just as it was for Authentic. During the second half of last year, Authentic won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, victories likely to earn him the coveted title of 2020 Horse of the Year.
“It was his first time around two turns,” Smith said of Life Is Good. “He got away just a little slow, but he got up and of course he’s naturally so quick, he was just up underneath himself. Just as we were heading for home, he was doing things all by himself so easy out there.
“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. 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 [the riding crop] 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.”
Life Is Good ran faster than Authentic in his front-running victory in Saturday’s Sham, covering a mile on a fast track in 1:36.63, compared to Authentic’s 1:37.57. But his final eighth of a mile in :13.39 was not swift.
“He’s just very, very talented,” Smith said. “We don’t know yet how talented. We haven’t gotten close yet.”
Life Is Good earned 10 points on the Road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby, vaulting him into a tie for eighth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Medina Spirit earned four points, while third-place Parnelli earned two points and Waspirant one point for a fourth-place finish.
Uncle Boogie ran last in the field of five.
Though four horses earned qualifying points, only the top two Baffert runners ever looked like they had any chance to win during the running. Life Is Good quickly overcame a bump at the start to assert command with fractions of:23.56, :46.67 and 1:10.66, opening a four-length lead at the six- and seven-furlong calls, and pace-chasing Medina Spirit showed determination to never give up the fight. He made up over three lengths in the closing furlong, though Life Is Good was confidently handled by Mike Smith until the final sixteenth.
Zedan Racing Stable’s Medina Spirit finished 13 lengths clear of Parnelli in a strung-out field in which more than 20 lengths separated first through last. The top two galloped out with energy.
“I could tell that Mike was just cruising out there,” said Baffert, a record seven-time winner of the Sham. “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.”
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.
China Horse Club and Maverick Racing bought Life is Good for $525,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the Paramount Sales consignment.
Life Is Good paid $2.40 as the 1-5 favorite, the same price he was a 9 1/2-length debut victory when sprinting at Del Mar Nov. 22. He earned $60,000 Saturday to increase his earnings to $94,200.