Press-Telegram (Long Beach)
Life Is Good has fun time as Smith rides colt to San Felipe Stakes romp
ARCADIA » From one Hall of Famer to another, trainer Bob Baffert had some explicit instructions for jockey Mike Smith before Saturday’s $300,000 Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.
“I told him, ‘Let him run today. Clear those lungs out and give him a good race,’” Baffert said in the winner’s
Inside: Jockey Joel Rosario wins another Santa Anita Handicap.
circle after Life Is Good made a mockery of the 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Derby prep race, going gate to wire and winning by eight lengths as the 1-2 favorite.
The most telling numbers were the final time: 1:42.18 over a track that has been yelding anything but fast times for the most part.
“That’s a serious, serious time,” Baffert said.
Just like Life Is Good is a serious contender to give Baffert his record seventh Kentucky Derby victory on May 1. He has some other good ones, but Life Is Good appears a cut above the rest at this point.
The Into Mischief colt was having a ball through the stretch, drifting out the whole way while looking at the big video screen in the infield.
“I’m glad that big screen in Kentucky is on the backside,” Baffert quipped.
In Life Is Good’s last race before Saturday, the Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 2, he opened a fourlength lead in the stretch and appeared to be headed toward a huge win before Smith shut him down and Medina Spirit closed a lot of ground, coming up threequarters of a length shy of
the winner at the wire.
Medina Spirit, also trained by Baffert, came back in the San Felipe, but he was another zip code behind Life Is Good at the finish this time, just like the other five horses.
Life Is Good, who won his debut by 9 ½ lengths at Del Mar on Nov. 22, broke like a shot from the inside, opening a quick early lead and never relinquishing it while carving out fractions of 23.63, 46.83 and 1:10.55.
Medina Spirit finished second, 2 ¼ lengths in front of Dream Shake. They were followed, in order, by Roman Centurian, The Great One, None Above the Law and Govenor’s Party.
“He’s learning to settle,” Smith said. “He’s maturing and getting smarter. Early on, he was so used to exploding from the pole or the gate. He’s learning how to run now, which is the big key, and he’s learning how to get into a rhythm.
“We are going to have to work on some little quirks. He starts looking at things because he is out there by himself, but I can’t take so much of a hold of him to give him company, either, so it’s a catch-22. When the big screen is lit up, they can see it.”
Smith said the colt doesn’t play around in the mornings because the screen is not on, but no matter how much he tried to imitate Goofy coming home Saturday, he stamped himself as the top 3-year-old on the West Coast.
“He’s just so talented,” Smith said. “I had a strong hold on him down to the wire, just holding on to him, making sure that he stayed straight. This horse is like that Muhammad Ali song. He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.”
For Baffert, it was his record eighth victory in the San Felipe as he continues to produce Kentucky Derby-caliber horses like Longfellow wrote poems. He’s won three of the past six Derbies with American Pharoah (2015), Justify (2018) and Authentic (2020), and might have had a fourth if Mastery had not suffered a career-ending injury while winning the 2017 San Felipe.
He doesn’t like to jinx his horses, but it’s hard not to rave about Life Is Good after the type of performance he turned in Saturday.
“I was hoping for something like this,” Baffert said. “I’ve been working this horse and he’s been doing some incredible things in the mornings. They way he’s been breezing, I don’t want to jinx him, but I just think he’s really special the way he gets over this track.”
While giving props to the winner, Medina Spirit’s rider, John Velazquez, was happy with the way the 3-1 second choice ran.
“I still think my horse absolutely has room for more improvement,” he said.
Baffert said Life Is Good will stay in town and run in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3, a race that could pave the way for another celebration in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle for the 68-year-old trainer.
“The party continues,” he said. “That’s what we want. That’s all we want.”
Baffert’s job is simple from here on out.
“He’s shown us from day one that he’s just an exceptional horse,” he said. “My job is just to keep him healthy and just guide him along.”
“The way he’s been breezing, I don’t want to jinx him, but I just think he’s really special the way he gets over this track.”
— Bob Baffert on Life is Good