Life is Good romps to victory in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup. Photo courtesy of Katsumi Saito
Jan. 31 (UPI) -- In the end, what promised to be the race of the year was over at the beginning.
Life Is Good jumped out to the lead in Saturday's $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park, and when jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. looked around for expected rival Knicks Go, he wasn't there.
Neither was anyone else.
And so Ortiz guided Life Is Good around the Gulfstream oval without competition. He won easily by 3 1/4 lengths over Knicks Go, the Breeders' Cup Classic champ and presumed 2021 Horse of the Year, who was making his final start before heading off to stud.
"I respect the other horse a lot," Ortiz said. "I thought it was going to be a match race. But going into the first turn, my horse was so fast, so I just let him do his thing. I felt like I had a lot of horse and I couldn't wait to let him run," Ortiz said.
"He's just a phenomenally talented horse," said Todd Pletcher, who trains the 4-year-old son of Into Mischief for WinStar farm and China Horse Club. "We see it every day from him. Every time we breeze him, he's extra special. He has that unique ability to go really fast and just keep going."
Knick's Go's trainer, Brad Cox, said his horse "just got outrun."
"It looked like he broke alright and then kind of got outrun a little bit. I don't know, that horse, the winner, he ran off the TV screen. The plan was definitely to go. I wanted to. We just got outrun."
Knicks Go, a 6-year-old son of Paynter, won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar in November, leading all the way. Life Is Good won the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile on the same program in the same fashion and everyone left the California track wondering which of them would have won a head-to-head meeting.
While Knicks Go heads off to a breeding career at Taylor Made in Kentucky, Life Is Good could be headed to the Middle East for the $12 million Dubai World Cup in March. Pletcher said that decision will be made after evaluating the colt post-race.
But it's not like he was all out to win on Saturday so maybe there's something left in the tank.
Meanwhile, there was lots of other racing during the weekend, with a nice Pegasus program undercard at Gulfstream Park, Triple Crown action at Oaklawn Park and graded stakes at Santa Anita.
On the international front, we look as far afield as Hong Kong and South Africa. But let's start in Arkansas.
The Road to the Roses
Trainer Bob Baffert, despite being banished from the Kentucky Derby by Churchill Downs fiat, continues to produce leading contenders for that very race.
The latest is Newgrange, a Violence colt shipped in from California to win Saturday's $750,000 Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Newgrange, with John Velazquez aboard, raced just off the early lead, began a move on the stretch turn, then found another gear in the final furlong to get home first, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Barber Road. Ben Diesel was third as Newgrange finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.83 over a fast track.
"We saw he had a different dimension today, the way the race set up," Baffert said via phone from California. "Pretty proud of the way he ran. Johnny [Velazquez] said he was struggling with the track a little bit earlier and I could tell that. Usually he's on the lead. But all the way down the backside he was in a good spot."
Newgrange now is 3-for-3. He won the Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in his previous outing after taking a maiden event at Del Mar.
Were Baffert-trained horses eligible, he would have earned 10 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series established by Churchill Downs to select the maximum-20 field for the Run for the Roses.
Oaklawn's two remaining races for 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail are the $1 million Rebel Stakes on Feb. 26 and the $1.25 million Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 2.
While Baffert was smiling about the Oaklawn win, he had to digest an upset loss at home as Forbidden Kingdom won Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Vicente at Santa Anita with Baffert runners finishing second, third and fourth.
Forbidden Kingdom, an American Pharoah colt trained by Richard Mandella, led all the way and won by 2 1/4 lengths from Pinehurst. McLaren Vale was third, a neck behind that one and a neck in front of the favorite, Doppleganger.
Forbidden Kingdom ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.75 with Juan Hernandez in the irons. He was coming off a good second-place finish in the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar on Nov. 14.
"He's as quick as they come," Mandella said. "We'll have to try two turns down the road here." He suggested the $400,000 Grade III San Felipe at 1 1/16 miles on March 5 is an option.
At Laurel Park in Maryland, Witty was a dominant winner in Saturday's $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes, clearing his rivals in the lane to get home first by 7 3/4 lengths. Coastal Mission was best of the rest with Local Motive third and the favorite, H P Moon, fading from the lead to report sixth.
Witty, a Pennsylvania-bred Great Notion gelding, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.38 with Carol Cedeno riding.
Trainer McLane Hendriks, who doubles as exercise rider for Witty, said, "He's basically been running off with me in the mornings. He is just like driving a Lamborghini."
And at Sunland Park in New Mexico, a Kentucky-bred gelding named Pepper Spray came from far back in the field to win Sunday's $100,000 Riley Allison Derby by a neck over Bye Bye Bobby. Benissimo was third in the 1-mile contest.
Pepper Spray, by Tale of Ekati out of the A.P. Warrior mare A.P. Pepper, finished in 1:37.75 with Luis Valenzuela up.
He now is 3-for-3 with the earlier wins at Canterbury Park and Turf Paradise. And, hey, we quit dismissing New Mexico runners out of hand after Mine That Bird won the 2009 Kentucky Derby at odds of 50-1. He came directly from Sunland Park to Louisville.
The Road to the Oaks
Secret Oath had rivals muttering some oaths after they watched her swoop from well back to win Saturday's $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park, drawing off to score by 7 1/4 lengths. Optionality led early and saved second, 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Como Square.
Secret Oath, a Arrogate filly trained by D. Wayne Lukas, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.21 with Luis Contreras up.
Secret Oath secured her third win from five starts. She also finished fifth in the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November.
"It was a replay [of her last race], and that's what we were looking for," Lukas said. "That consistency is now coming and we're getting that maturity, as far as a professional racehorse.
"She's been very manageable but she was a little immature before. But I think it's coming together now and we've just got to keep her happy and fat and we'll go down the road."
At Laurel Park, odds-on favorite Luna Belle was in no hurry early in the $100,000 Xtra Heat Stakes but had no trouble finding the needed burst to get by her rivals en route to a 6-lengths victory. Buff My Boots was second, 2 lengths in front of Beneath the Stars.
Luna Belle, a Maryland-bred filly by Great Notion, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.03 with Denis Araujo in the irons.
It snowed. Then it snowed some more and got really cold. Racing was canceled both Saturday and Sunday. Lots of the wagering action undoubtedly shifted to:
Colonel Liam rallied to the lead heading for home in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational Turf, eased by pacesetter Never Surprised and got to the wire first by 1 length over that rival. Space Traveler came from a distant galaxy -- next-last of 12 -- to get show money.
Colonel Liam, a 5-year-old son of Liam's Map, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm going in 1:47.48. It was a preview of the Pegasus itself as Irad Ortiz Jr. got a leg up from Pletcher.
Colonel Liam went to the post as the favorite despite not having raced since finishing eighth in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park last June. Before that, he parlayed a 2021 Pegasus Turf victory with wins in the Grade II Muniz Memorial at Fair Grounds and the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
The Pegasus program this year welcomed a new race, the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Filly & Mare Turf, and Regal Glory reigned.
The 6-year-old daughter of Animal Kingdom got off to a bad start and trailed most of the field into the backstretch. But once jockey Jose Ortiz got her in gear, she came five-wide around the pack and was along to win by 2 1/2 lengths, going away She got 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.74.
Now a winner of 10 of 17 starts, Regal Glory was slated to be retired after the Pegasus and has a date with Into Mischief. But trainer Chad Brown said the dominating victory could make a difference to owner Peter Brant and result in a decision to keep the mare in training for the rest of the year.
Beautiful Lover tracked a dawdling pace set by Always Shopping in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III La Prevoyante, moved at just the right time in deep stretch and was up to win by a neck in a four-horse blanket finish. Sorrel was second, with Always Shopping third and Scarabea fourth.
After the plodding early progress, Beautiful Lover finished the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:30.49 with Joel Rosario riding.
The 6-year-old Arch mare had been contesting shorter turf races until late in the 2021 season, when she jumped up to win the Zagora Stakes at Belmont Park. She then finished a good third in the Via Borghese at Gulfstream going 1 3/8 miles.
Asked about the stretchout late in Beautiful Lover's career, winning trainer Christophe Clement said, "You always have to try new things. Why not?"
In the companion $150,000 Grade III W.L. McKnight, Abaan stalked the pace, took the lead on the final turn and ran on to win by open lengths. Temple broke a step slowly from the inside gate, was shuffled back and came with a late run to be second. Media Blitz was third.
With Luis Saez up for trainer Todd Pletcher, Abaan ran 1 1/2 miles on the lawn in 2:29.53.
Abaan, a 5-year-old Will Take Charge gelding, ended his 2021 campaign with an equally impressive victory in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes over the same course going 2 miles in December.
Just One Time, with Rosario up for trainer Brad Cox, had to rally out toward the middle of the track on the turn to get the lead in the $200,000 Grade II Inside Information Stakes for fillies and mares but the 3-2 favorite was up to the task, leading late for the win. Four Graces was second, Jakarta third.
Just One Time, a 4-year-old Not This Time filly, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.81. She was making her first start of the season, and improved to five win from six starts.
Speakers Corner took the early lead in Saturday's $150,000 Fred W. Hooper Stakes, shook off some pressure midway through the 1-mile event and got home first by 1 1/4 lengths. Fearless was second, 9 1/4 lengths better than officiating.
Speakers Corner, a 4-year-old Street Sense colt, finished in 1:35.26 with Junior Alvarado riding for trainer Bill Mott. The colt is a Godolphin homebred and the win was his fourth from seven starts.
Sam Houston Race Course
Pauline's Pearl, whose recent career has sent her chasing big stakes where others don't bother, landed a big one Sunday in Houston, easily rallying to a 3 3/4-length victory in the $400,000 Grade III Houston Ladies Classic.
With Joel Rosario flying in for the ride, Pauline's Pearl flew down the stretch from a stalking position to get the $235,000 winner's share. The Steve Asmussen trainee finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.43 with Golden Curl second, 3/4 length in front of Audrey's Time.
Pauline's Pearl, a 4-year-old Tapit filly, has roamed from West Virginia to New Mexico, winning four times with nine on-the-board finishes in 11 starts.
In the $200,000 Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup, Fantasioso came from off the pace and Another Mystery came from the clouds to finish in a dead heat for first and second. Strong Tide, who led briefly in the lane, finished third, a head back of the embattled duo.
The 1 1/2 miles on firm turf went in 2:31.28. Jareth Loveberry rode Another Mystery for trainer Chris Block and James Graham was up on Fantasioso for trainer Ignacio Correas IV.
Fantasioso is a 7-year-old, Argentine-bred son of Strategic Prince. Another Mystery, defying the sad state of the Illinois industry, was bred in the Land of Lincoln by the owners, Team Block. He's a 6-year-old entire son of Temple City.
Red Run did all his running in the late going of Sunday's $200,000 Bob Bork Texas Turf Mile for 3-year-olds, rallying five-wide to get home first, 1/2 length in front of Bloodline. The favorite, Stolen Base, came from last of 10 to finish third.
Red Run, another of those Gun Runner colts from the Winchell Thoroughbreds and trainer Steve Asmussen, finished the mile on firm turf in 1:37.75.
Seven Scents rallied from off the pace, then outfinished the favorite, Bad Beat Brian, to win Sunday's $100,000 Pulse Power Turf Sprint by 1 1/2 lengths. Tut's Revenge was third.
Seven Scents, a 6-year-old Goldencents gelding trained by Karl Broberg, ran 5 furlongs on firm going in 56.86 seconds under Reylu Gutierrez.
Greeley and Ben shook off multiple challenges while disputing the lead en route to a 3/4-length victory in Sunday's $75,000 Stonerside Sprint Stakes. Mr Money Bags, always close, finished second, another 3/4 length in front of Top Gunner.
Greeley and Ben, an 8-year-old gelding by Greeley's Conquest, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track. Ry Eikleberry rode for trainer Broberg.
Bob's Edge broke near the back of the pack in Saturday's $150,000 King Cotton Stakes, passed them all with a four-wide move and ran on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Home Base. Seven Nation Army was third.
Bob's Edge, a 4-year-old Competitive Edge gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.52 for jockey Luis Quinonez. The win was his fifth from 12 starts in Kentucky and Arkansas for trainer Larry Jones.
Essential Wager took a quick lead in Saturday's $100,000 Palos Verdes Stakes and made that advantage stand up, winning by a neck over long shot Shooters Shoot. The favorite, Cezanne, settled for third.
Essential Wager, a 4-year-old colt by Honor Code, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track with Abel Cedillo riding for the aforementioned Bob Baffert, who also conditions Cezanne.
"This horse is getting better and better," Baffert said of Essential Wager. "With Cezanne, I think it was a little too short for him."
Canoodling led all the way to an upset win in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Megahertz Stakes for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile filly, with Roimes Chirinos at the controls, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.30.
The favorite, Warren's Showtime, was relegated to second, 1/2 length back. Avenue de France was a nose farther back in third.
Friar's Road got the last word in Sunday's $225,000 Grade II San Marcos Stakes, overhauling the early leaders at mid-stretch and running on to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Bob and Jackie could only manage to finish second. Say the Word was a head back of that one in third.
Friar's Road, a 5-year-old son of Quality Road, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:58.67 with Flavien Prat up. It was his fifth straight top-three finish with the last four coming in graded affairs.
Cordmaker, the odds-on favorite, stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Jennings Stakes for Maryland-breds, moved to the lead in the lane and held on to win by a neck. The 7-year-old Curlin gelding ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.70 with Victor Carrasco up.
Kiss the Girl tood charge in the lane in Saturday's $75,000 Geisha Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, pulling away late to win by 4 1/2 lengths. A 5-year-old daughter of Into Mischief, Kiss the Girl ran 1 mile in 1:40.69 for Carrasco.
Time Limit stalked the pace in the $100,000 What a Summer Stakes for fillies and mares, led in the stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths. The 5-year-old Bustin Stones mare, with Carrasco having a good day, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.39.
Wonderwherecraigis was always right out in front in the $100,000 Fire Plug Stakes and was still there at the end, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. The 5-year-old Munnings gelding got 6 furlongs in 1:10.71 with Jevian Toledo in the irons and Carrasco fifth on a relative long shot.
Lady Edith rolled from next-last of 11 to win Saturday's $100,000 Wishing Well Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 length. Wait for Nairobi led briefly and finished second, 3/4 length in front of Princess Causeway.
Lady Edith, a 4-year-old Street Boss filly, got 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:17.76 with Joe Rocco Jr. in the irons.
Elle Z and Change of Control swapped the lead back and forth through the 5 1/2 furlongs of Saturday's $75,000 Frederick P. Aime Memorial before Elle Z finally prevailed by a nose. It was 3 3/4 lengths farther back to Brooke Marie in third.
Elle Z, a 5-year-old City Zip mare, zipped over the firm turf in 1:04.85 for jockey Mitchell Murrill.
El Chavo Del Ocho pressured pacesetter Competitive Idea through the first half of Saturday's $75,000 Ft. Bliss Stakes, put that one away and just did hold on to win by a nose over Sweet River Baines. Competitive Idea held third.
El Chavo Del Ocho, a 7-year-old gelding by Tannersmyman, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.43.
Around the world, around the clock:
Shahama was the unquestioned queen of Friday's third night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan Racecourse.
The Munnings filly, trained by Fawzi Nass, strolled to her third win without loss in taking the UAE 1,000 Guineas with a seemingly effortless stretch run that found her 3 3/4 lengths in front at the finish and a potential candidate for the UAE Oaks, UAE Derby and even the Kentucky Oaks.
Nass was not on hand to discuss plans for the filly but Dubai Racing Channel commentator Laura Martin reported a member of the ownership group said those races, all things being well, could be under consideration.
"That was pretty straightforward and I was able to keep out of any potential traffic problems," winning rider Adrie de Vries said. "She took me there easily and then quickened nicely. She is a smart filly and I guess will be aimed at the UAE Oaks now and then, hopefully, the Derby."
Two races on the turf could have implications for big events in Saudi Arabia and back at Meydan during the rest of the winter.
In the Zabeel Turf, Star Safari squeezed through a tight opening on the rail and spurted clear, winning by 1/2 length from Marie's Diamond. With William Buick up for Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby, Star Safari finished the 2,000 meters in 2:02.29.
"I was probably further back than ideal but he was the best horse in the race, has that touch of class and loves this Meydan turf track," Buick said.
Godolphin struck again in the Group 2 Zabeel Mile as jockey Daniel Tudhope positioned the favorite, Real World perfectly on the rail and just behind the leaders and produced him for a devastating stretch run that culminated in a 2 1/2-length win.
Real World was coming off four straight impressive wins in Europe and the UK to finish his 2021 season and trainer Saeed bin Suroor was optimistic.
"We were expecting a big run because he had been in good form at home and improved all last year in Europe," bin Suroor said. "We started him over 1,600 meters to get him going again and we have lots of options with him here and in Saudi Arabia."
Romantic Warrior took the first step down the road to the BMW Hong Kong Derby with a hard-fought win Sunday in the Hong Kong Classic Mile at Sha Tin Racecourse, getting by California Spangle in the final 50 meters to score by 1/2 length.
The 4-year-old son of Acclamation broke from the inside gate, saved all the ground and found running room just in time at mid-stretch. Well back in third was New Zealand-bred The Irishman, ironically the only one of the top three not bred in Ireland.
"He's a lovely horse," Teetan said. "He's actually a really nice horse. He had the draw and I think it helped him. I just wanted to follow California Spangle and I knew he would take me into the race. But when this horse got the clear run, he really let down and I think he's got a very bright future."
Trainer Danny Shum indicated that, pending talks with owner Peter Lau, Romantic Warrior is a candidate to continue on in the series that culminates in the March 20 Derby, a prime target for local horsemen and a regular launching pad for superstardom in Hong Kong.
The victory was especially pleasing to the Hong Kong Jockey Club as Romantic Warrior was purchased by the HKJC from the 2019 Tattersalls Sale, then acquired by Lau for HK$4.8 million (about US$616,000) at the 2021 Hong Kong International Sale. The horse now has earned HK$10.4 million (about US$1.3 million)
As Hong Kong currently lacks a breeding industry, the Club uses overseas acquisitions for its annual sale as a means to inject quality prospects into the local horse population.
In the day's second feature, Zebrowski scored a hard-fought win in the Group 3 Centenary Vase Handicap and trainer Caspar Fownes said that might be enough to get the 5-year-old Savabeel gelding a spot in the Group 1 Citi Hong Kong Gold Cup next month.
"He's stepping up to every task, and sometimes you have to throw them in the deep end a little bit, out of their comfort zone, rating-wise," Fownes said.
The trainer said visiting the HKJC's Conghua Racecourse training facilities on the Chinese mainland has been valuable in gettting Zebrowski fighting fit.
Kommetdieding emerged from the middle of the field at mid-stretch in Saturday's Grade 1 World Sports Betting Cape Town Met and held on bravely through the final 100 meters to win by 3/4 length. Jet Dark was second, a head in front of Linebacker.
Kommetdieding, a 4-year-old son of Elusive Fort out of the Captain Al mare Adorable, got 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) in 2:03.80 with Gavin Larena aboard.
The outcome of the Met reversed the finish of the Grade I L'Ormarins Queen's Plate on Jan. 8. Jet Dark took that 1-mile race by 2 1/2 lengths over Kommetdieding with Rainbow Bridge third. Rainbow Bridge came out of the Queen's Plate with an injury that prompted connection to retire him from competition.
Kommetdieding completed a relatively rare "double" of the Met and the Grade 1 Durban July, which he won last summer at Greyville. That feat had not been turned since Igugu in 2012.