Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Life Is Good kept his Kentucky Derby campaign going with a weekend victory in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, virtually emulating last year's Sham winner, Derby winner and likely 2020 Horse of the Year, Authentic.
Mutasaabeq and Capo Kane also burnished their credentials for the May 1 Run for the Roses with weekend wins and Kalypso took a step forward on the road to the Kentucky Oaks.
Anothertwistafate won on Santa Anita grass and is headed to the Pegasus Stakes in Florida -- maybe for the big race, maybe the turf spinoff.
Speaking of spinning and with apologies to the late Phil Georgeff, here we come, spinning out of the turn ...
The Road to the Roses
Life Is Good was already one of the top prospects for the Kentucky Derby after just one start so lots was expected when he lined up for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. The Into Mischief colt did not disappoint.
With Mike Smith riding for trainer Bob Baffert, Life Is Good's natural speed took him right to the lead. He loped along in front, comfortable and without any encouragement, and turned into the stretch well ahead.
As his lead began to shrink in the final sixteenth, Smith let him know company was coming and the colt responded well enough to win by 3/4 length. Baffert's other starter, Medina, was the rival. It was another 13 lengths back to Parnelli in third.
"It was his first time around two turns," Smith said about the diminishing late advantage. "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 it to him a little bit.
"What I liked really was after the race, when I stood up and the horse got next to me, he jumped back in the bridle and I mean I had to pull him up. He's just very, very talented. We don't know yet how talented. We haven't gotten close yet."
Baffert said Life Is Good's lack of experience reminded him of Authentic, this year's Kentucky Derby winner, who started his meteoric rise with a win in the Sham despite an adventurous trip down the stretch that saw him looking around and then nearly hitting the rail before jockey Drayden Van Dyke resumed control.
"Just to get the two turns out of the way -- it's big," said Baffert, who now has seven Sham wins and six in the Run for the Roses.
"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 around there and it was just the kind of race we were looking for. "It is so exciting he passed the two-turn test."
For those who have not yet noticed: Baffert, Smith and Life Is Good's ownership team of WinStar Farm and China Horse Club also managed Justify's run to the 2018 Triple Crown.
All the way across the country, another well-connected colt made his presence known in the 3-year-old ranks and it looks like we'll have to internalize the spelling of his name -- Mutasaabeq.
The Into Mischief colt, trained by Todd Pletcher for Shadwell Stable, posted a comfortable, 1 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park. So we'll be seeing him again.
With Luis Saez in the irons, Mutassabeq bobbled just a bit out of the gate but recovered quickly, shadowed the early speed and took the lead around the quarter pole. He then eased clear, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Papetu was second, 1 1/4 lengths better than Awesome Gerry, who made the early lead.
Mutasaabeq won the Grade II Bourbon Stakes on the Keeneland turf in October but then was 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf the following month, prompting Pletcher to return him to the brown course.
"I thought he ran great," Pletcher said. "We'll look to try another one on dirt. I'll talk to the team at Shadwell and come up with a plan. I think today he showed his versatility. He's now a stakes winner on both surfaces. It's exciting to have one like that."
We'll also be keeping an eye on Capo Kane, the easy winner of Friday's $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct.
The Street Sense colt was on the lead right out of the gate, was never headed and kicked away through the final furlong, winning by 6 1/4 lengths. Eagle Orb and Hold the Salsa were second and third with the favorite, Swill, checking in fourth.
Capo Kane, with Dylan Davis up, ran 1 mile on a muddy track in 1:38.02, notched his second straight win.
Capo Kane made his first two starts at his Parx Racing base, where he finished second and then won convincingly Nov. 25. The Jerome was his first start without Lasix -- a new requirement for the Kentucky Derby trail.
Trainer Harold Wyner said he looks forward to stretching out Capo Kane around two turns and mentioned the $250,000 Grade III Withers on Feb. 6 at Aqueduct and the Risen Star at Fair Grounds the following weekend as potential next starts.
"It should be no problem," Wyner said of added distance. "In the morning, the further he gallops, the stronger he gets. He just loves to run. He's a racehorse."
The Sham and the Jerome were both stops on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" and Life Is Good and Capo Kane each put up 10 points on the leaderboard.
In other weekend action among the 3-year-olds:
Drain the Clock kicked away from a half dozen rivals in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Limehouse Stakes at Gulfstream Park, winning by 7 1/2 lengths.
Tiger and Runway Magic were second and third as Drain the Clock, a Maclean's Music colt, stopped the clock at 1:10.11 for 6 furlongs on a fast track. Edgard Zayas rode for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.
Drain the Clock now is 3-for-4, the only loss coming in the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs Nov. 3 when jockey Heriberto Figueroa suffered a broken iron shortly after the start.
The Road to the Oaks
After scratching Varda, the aforementioned Bob Baffert still had half the six-filly field in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Ynez at Santa Anita -- and two of his runners got home first and second.
Kalypso, a Brody's Cause filly, eagerly pressed the pace, grabbed the lead early in the stretch run and scored by 1 3/4 lengths. Frosteria, a daughter of Frosted, rallied from next-last to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths better than long shot Brilliant Cut.
Baffert's third starter, Exotic West, was bumped around repeatedly and finished last.
Kalypso, with Joel Rosario up, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.42 and earned 10 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Oaks" leaderboard.
She improved her record to two wins, two seconds and a third from five starts. The second came in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet, won by Varda, who was Baffert's late scratch Sunday.
Baffert said the defeat around two turns won't necessarily discourage him as he plots Kalypso's campaign.
"I would try her long again," he said. "As they get older they are maturing. You can slow her down a little bit like today. She was pretty relaxed. She wasn't too rank where she went real fast but we'll just see how they come out of it."
Gulf Coast hooked up with pacesetter Adios Trippi in a stretch battle in Friday's $75,000 Cash Run Stakes at Gulfstream Park, said goodbye to that one and then held off Honorifique to win by 1/2 length.
Adios Trippi was third. Gulf Coast, a Union Rags filly, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.16 for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
Gulf Coast, trained by Rodolphe Brisset, now has two wins and a second with that loss coming in the Sandpiper Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs Dec. 5.
"We ran her back in 26 days, 27 days and that's not usually what we do," Brisset said. "But we were looking for some black type. She showed class and quality to us, but now we've got the win in a stakes out of the way. I think two turns, yes. But I think six weeks, too."
Competitive Speed didn't compete with the early speed in Saturday's $75,000 Glitter Woman Stakes for 3-year-old fillies but the Competitive Edge filly certainly had the edge in the late going.
After catching pacesetting Shop Girl at the 3/16 pole, Competitive Speed got away to win by 3 lengths with Gone to Cabo third and the odds-on favorite, Hit the Woah, fourth. Competitive Speed ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.08 with Leonel Reyes in the irons.
Competitive Speed finished fifth in her career bow on Halloween at Gulfstream Park West and has won all three subsequent outings.
Anothertwistafate tracked pacesetting Bob and Jackie for the first mile of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Gabriel on the Santa Anita turf, took over from that one when prompted by jockey Joel Rosario and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths.
Bob and Jackie held onto second, 2 lengths better than Next Shares. The favorite, Count Again, was never involved and eased through the stretch.
Anothertwistafate, a 5-year-old son of Scat Daddy, covered 1 1/8 miles over firm turf in 1:46.63. He now has five wins from 10 starts. He won the Grade III Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs two starts back.
"We'll look at the Pegasus, both the turf and the dirt," said Anothertwistafate's trainer, Peter Miller, referring to the Grade I events at Gulfstream Park. "The dirt is more money but, obviously, there's tougher horses in there."
Kentucky Pharoah went directly to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Dania Beach Stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park and wasn't caught, winning by 3 lengths.
The odds-on favorite, Fighting Force, was second, 3/4 length better than Cave Hill. Kentucky Pharoah, by -- you guessed it -- American Pharoah, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.07. Julien Leparoux rode for trainer Jack Sisterton.
The Dania Beach was a bit of a shootout among the world's top Thoroughbred outfits with Calumet Farm first, Coolmore's connections second and Godolphin third.
After falling short in his first two starts on the dirt, American Pharoah has won both outings on the green course. Both Fighting Force, by Air Force Blue, and Cave Hill, a Frosted colt, have run well and merit further attention.
Filly & Mare Turf
Con Lima worked quickly to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Glitter Woman Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park, turned back a challenge and ran on to win by 3 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Honey Pants.
Designer Ready was just a head farther back in third. Con Lima, a daughter of Commissioner, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:35.23 with Paco Lopez up. She now has three wins and three seconds from six starts.
Hembree rallied from last of seven in Friday's $200,000 Grade II Joe Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita, scooting through on the inside to defeat True Valor by 3/4 length.
Blitzkreig took a short-lived lead in the stretch run and held on for third. Hembree, a 7-year-old son of Proud Citizen, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:13.80 with Joel Rosario up. Hembree made it two straight wins after a victory drought through his 14 previous starts.
"Brilliant," said Hembree's trainer, Peter Miller. "It really was just a fantastic ride by Joel. That's why he's one of the world's best. He's a very fast horse. He runs fast figures and fast Beyers. The question to me was whether the six and a half was too short for him, but he answered the question the right way."
Imprimis had only one rival beaten through the early furlongs of Friday's $75,000 Janus Stakes at Gulfstream Park, angled out five-wide in the stretch and rallied to the wire, winning by a neck over Extravagant Kid.
The Critical Way was just a head farther back in third. Imprimis, a 7-year-old Broken Vow gelding, finished 5 furlongs on firm turf in 54.82 with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding.
Hear My Prayer was along in the late going to win Friday's $75,000 Abundantia Stakes for fillies and mares at Gulfstream Park by 2 1/2 lengths over Victory Kingdom.
Tracy Ann's Legacy was third. Hear My Prayer, a 4-year-old daughter of The Big Beast, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.27 seconds with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding
Pete's Play Call dueled to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Gravesend Stakes at Aqueduct, then ran down the stretch unopposed, winning by 2 1/2 lengths.
Stan the Man came from last of five to finish second with Drafted third. Pete's Play Call, an 8-year-old Munnings gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:17.63 with Jorge Vargas Jr. in the irons.
Pete's Play Call was claimed for $40,000 during the Saratoga meet this summer. He now has three wins and a second in five starts since that claim and earned $55,000 for Saturday's win.
"I thought we paid top dollar for him," trainer Rudy Rodriguez said. "But seeing him working in the morning, it looked like he was worth every penny."
Or, as Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee is fond of saying, "It's an easy game."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Mrs. Orb got first run to the lead in the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 La Verdad Stakes for fillies and mares at Aqueduct and made that advantage stand up, winning by 1 length over the odds-on favorite, Sharp Starr.
Espresso Shot and Prairie Fire completed the order of finish. Mrs. Orb, a 6-year-old Orb mare, ran 7 furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in 1:24.54 with Dylan Davis riding.
The victory ended a string of five straight runner-up finishes for Mrs. Orb, including the Grade III Turnback the Alarm Handicap two starts back.