by Jon White
March 4, 2021
Beginning in late January, I’ve been making selections for Xpressbet.com in terms of this country’s races offering points toward a starting berth in the Grade I, $3 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1.
Of the nine such races, I have picked the winner in six of them, as noted below:
Date Race (Selection) Finish, $2 win payoff if applicable
01-30-21 Holy Bull (Greatest Honour) WON, $7.60
01-30-21 Robert B. Lewis (Medina Spirit), WON, $4.00
02-06-21 Sam F. Davis (Candy Man Rocket), WON, $8.20
02-06-21 Withers (Donegal Bay), finished 7th
02-13-21 Risen Star (Senor Buscador), finished 5th
02-13-21 El Camino Real Derby (Rombauer), WON, $4.40
02-26-21 Battaglia Memorial (Gretzky the Great), finished 3rd
02-27-21 Southwest (Essential Quality), WON, $3.80
02-27-21 Fountain of Youth (Greatest Honor), WON, $4.00
There are three races this Saturday with Kentucky Derby points up for grabs. They are the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, Grade II Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs and Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. All three races will reward the first four finishers with 50-20-10-5 points toward the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses.
SAN FELIPE STAKES
This has come up as one of the stronger races from top to bottom on the Kentucky Derby trail this year. Life Is Good, who is two for two, heads the field of eight.
My selections for the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe are below:
1. Life is Good
2. Dream Shake
3. Medina Spirit
4. The Great One
Seven are entered in the San Felipe.
Life is Good, who is No. 2 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, has done something leading up to this race that I do not recall any other horse ever doing in Southern California since I first started covering races at SoCal tracks in 1981. He put together a string of six consecutive breezing workouts before going out last Sunday morning and working six furlongs in 1:12.20 handily at Santa Anita.
The official clockers at SoCal tracks rarely list a workout as breezing. A breezing designation is stingily reserved for when a horse works considerably easier than a horse whose workout is listed as handily.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains Life is Good. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt has recorded seven Santa Anita workouts following his victory in the Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 2 (rank among works at that distance that day in parentheses):
--Jan. 11, 4 furlongs in :47.00 breezing (2/42)
--Jan. 27, 4 furlongs in :49.60 breezing (56/112)
--Feb. 01, 4 furlongs in :48.80 breezing (31/179)
--Feb. 08, 6 furlongs in 1:12.00 breezing (1/9)
--Feb. 15, 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 breezing (4/33)
--Feb. 21, 5 furlongs in :59.60 breezing (1/54)
--Feb. 28, 6 furlongs in 1:12.20 handily (1/3)
Life Is Good now has had 19 recorded SoCal works. None were listed as breezing prior to his streak of six straight such workouts. As I noted last week, to put what Life is Good has been doing into some context, consider how it compares to some of the other elite horses trained by Baffert, such as 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.
American Pharoah had 27 recorded workouts prior to the Kentucky Derby. None were listed as breezing. During American Pharoah’s entire racing career, only two of his 42 SoCal works were listed as breezing.
Justify had 17 SoCal works before the Kentucky Derby. Again, none was listed as breezing.
What about 2020 Horse of the Year Authentic? Due to COVID-19, the Kentucky Derby was moved from May 2 to Sept. 5. Only one of Authentic’s 56 SoCal works prior to the Kentucky Derby was listed as breezing.
Life Is Good is exceptionally fast. What Baffert has concentrated on trying to accomplish in recent weeks is to get Life Is Good to “harness his inclination to go too fast too soon,” as Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman put it in what he wrote after the smooth-moving colt’s 1:12.20 workout last Sunday.
“Based on how he’s done in his last couple of drills, including Sunday morning here at Santa Anita, he seems to be getting the hang of it,” Privman wrote in terms of Life Is Good not being as headstrong as he had been earlier this year. “In his final drill before Saturday’s Grade II, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes, Life Is Good worked six furlongs in 1:12.20, but the key points are that he started off well under control, then galloped out a full mile. The work was reminiscent of what trainer Bob Baffert did with Arrogate and American Pharoah.”
When I have watched Life Is Good’s workouts on XBTV, he has been pure poetry in motion. After I watched his 1:00.80 work on Feb. 15, I mentioned in a text to Baffert that Life Is Good appeared to me to be just floating over the ground. Baffert’s one-word reply was “freaky.”
A factor in Life Is Good’s improvement in cooperating better with his rider seems to stem from a change in the colt’s bit, as Privman reported on Feb. 15. The purpose of the new bit was to give exercise rider Juan Ochoa “more control of the at-times headstrong colt,” Privman wrote.
Back on Nov. 27 at Del Mar, jaws dropped when Life Is Good won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race by 9 1/2 lengths as a 1-5 favorite. He was credited with a 91 Beyer Speed Figure.
Life Is Good then got the job done in Santa Anita’s one-mile Sham when again backed down to 1-5 favoritism. He was cruising along with a four-length lead at the eighth pole, but then his lead shrank in the final furlong. Life Is Good was three-quarters of a length at the finish.
Medina Spirit, also trained by Baffert, closed the gap in the lane to give the big favorite a bit of a scare. While it was undeniably a fine try by Medina Spirit in his first start since a three-length debut win Dec. 11 at Los Alamitos, he had to settle for second.
After the finish of the Sham, Life Is Good galloped out well all the way to the backstretch. That indicated his gas tank was far from empty toward the end of the race.
The form of the Sham was bolstered when Medina Spirit subsequently won Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Jan. 30. Medina Spirit will try to turn the tables on Life Is Good in the San Felipe.
While Life Is Good’s margin of victory in the Sham was less than a length, Authentic won the 2020 Sham by 7 3/4 lengths despite racing greenly in the final furlong. But to Life Is Good’s credit, his final time in the Sham of 1:36.63 was quite a bit faster than Authentic’s 1:36.57 in the 2020 renewal.
Life Is Good was credited with a 101 Beyer Speed Figure in the Sham, much higher than Authentic’s 90.
Authentic would go on to win two of the nation’s most important events, the Kentucky Derby and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was voted 2020 Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male.
Life Is Good’s 101 in the Sham is the highest Beyer Speed Figure posted by a 3-year-old so far in 2021.
Below are the seven-best Beyers recorded this year by a 3-year-old, male or female:
Beyer Winner (Finish, Race, Track, Date)
101 Life Is Good (won Sham at Santa Anita on Jan. 2)
99 Medina Spirit (2nd Sham at Santa Anita on Jan. 2)
98 Mandaloun (won Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 13)
97 Proxy (2nd Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 13)
96 Dream Shake (won maiden race at Santa Anita on Feb. 7)
96 Midnight Bourbon (3rd Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 13)
96 Essential Quality (won Southwest at Oaklawn on Feb. 27)
As for those I am picking underneath Life Is Good in the San Felipe, I was very impressed by Dream Shake’s marvelous win at first asking in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden contest Feb. 7 at Santa Anita for trainer Peter Eurton. That was the race in which the hyped-to-the-moon Baffert-trained Bezos also made his career debut.
Bezos finished seventh as an overwhelming 3-5 favorite and has not had a recorded workout since. Dream Shake, dismissed at 20-1, raced next-to-last early in the field of nine, passed rivals with a rush on the far turn and drew away in the stretch to win by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:17. He was credited with an excellent 96 Beyer Speed Figure.
Even though Dream Shake trounced one of the strongest maiden fields seen at Santa Anita in years, he does not seem to have generated any real buzz. Mainly because Baffert trains Bezos, if that colt had won that same race by nearly five lengths and recorded a 96 Beyer, he’d be all the rage.
Dream Shake received an excellent Thoro-Graph number of 1. Regarding Thoro-Graph, the lower the number the better the performance, which is the opposite of the Beyers.
Thoro-Graph takes many more factors into account than the Beyers. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”
The Great One also registered a Thoro-Graph number of 1 when he won a one-mile maiden race by 14 lengths Jan. 23 at Santa Anita. The only other Thoro-Graph number by a 3-year-old male that low this year going into last weekend was Greatest Honour’s 1 when he won Gulfstream Park’s Grade III, 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths on Jan. 30. I have not yet seen what Greatest Honour’s Thoro-Graph number was for his victory in last Saturday’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream.
Life Is Good received a 2 3/4 Thoro-Graph number for his debut, the same number he got in the Sham.
TAMPA BAY DERBY
My selections for the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby are below:
1. Hidden Stash
2. Candy Man Rocket
4. Boca Boy
Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee reports that this race has attracted a field of 12.
Candy Man Rocket, a Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, is coming off a one-length win in the Grade III, 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Hidden Stash was gaining late when he finished third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Candy Man Rocket.
I’m going with Hidden Stash because it appears to me he might turn the tables on Candy Man Rocket in their rematch this Saturday at 1 1/8 miles. Vicki Oliver trains the Kentucky-bred Constitution colt.
Helium, trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, will be making his first start of 2021. The Kentucky-bred Ironicus colt was two for two at Woodbine last year on a synthetic surface. Helium earned his maiden diploma by 3 1/4 lengths in a seven-furlong race, then won the Display Stakes at the same distance by 4 1/4 lengths. He’s racing on dirt for the first time this Saturday.
Boca Boy set the early pace and finished fourth in the Davis. Inasmuch as that was his first race since last Sept. 26, perhaps he can stick around and again finish in the superfecta in this Saturday’s longer race. Cheryl Winebaugh trains the Florida-bred Prospective colt.
My selections for the one-mile Gotham Stakes are below:
1. Freedom Fighter
2. Highly Motivated
3. Capo Kane
4. Wipe the Slate
Eight are scheduled to clash in the Gotham.
Freedom Fighter finished second, a half-length behind Concert Tour, in Santa Anita’s Grade II, seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 6. Baffert trains both Concert Tour (who is headed for Oaklawn Park’s Grade II Rebel Stakes on March 13) and Freedom Fighter.
I thought Freedom Fighter ran a heckuva race in defeat due to the fact that he was returning from a layoff in the San Vicente. The Kentucky-bred Violence colt recorded a fine 94 Beyer Speed Figure in the San Vicente. That was a huge leap from his 79 when he won a five-furlong maiden race at Del Mar last Aug. 1 in his only start prior to the San Vicente.
Highly Motivated, a Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt trained by Chad Brown, warrants much respect in the Gotham. This will be Highly Motivated’s first start since he won the 6 1/2-furlong Nyquist Stakes by 4 1/4 lengths at Keeneland last Nov. 6. Into Mischief sired the 2020 Kentucky Derby winner in Authentic.
Capo Kane figures to appreciate cutting back to one mile after he showed early zip and finished third in Aqueduct’s 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes on Feb. 6. Harold Wyner trains the California-bred colt whose sire, Street Sense, won the 2007 Kentucky Derby.
Wipe the Slate, trained by Doug O’Neill, will be racing around one turn this Saturday. In his most recent start, the Kentucky-bred colt finished sixth in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles around two turns on Jan. 30.
Nyquist, Wipe the Slate’s sire, won the 2016 Kentucky Derby for O’Neill, who also won the 2012 Run for the Roses with I’ll Have Another. Wipe the Slate is a half-brother to Mitole, who was voted a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter.
MY CURRENT KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Last Saturday was the actual 20th birthday for the highly successful sire Tapit. That same day, two of his sons, Essential Quality and Greatest Honour, won important graded stakes races on the Kentucky Derby trail.
Essential Quality, close up early on the sloppy track, splashed his way to a 4 1/4-length victory in Oaklawn’s Grade III Southwest Stakes last Saturday in his first 2021 start. The Kentucky-bred colt now is four for four.
Brad Cox, who was voted a 2020 Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer, conditions Essential Quality. Following Grade I wins in the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Essential Quality was voted a 2020 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.
By winning the Southwest, Essential Quality retains the No. 1 spot on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.
Last Saturday, Essential Quality completed his 1 1/16-mile journey in 1:45.48. He recorded a career-best 96 Beyer Speed Figure.
Greatest Honour climbs a notch to No. 3 on my Top 10 this week after he rallied from ninth in the field of 10 to win last Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth going away by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:44.02.
The Fountain of Youth was one of 14 races on the Gulfstream card last Saturday. In terms of a Beyer for his victory, Greatest Honour originally received a modest figure.
Greatest Honour’s Beyer Speed Figure for the Fountain Youth was “originally posted as an anemic 83,” Privman wrote. It was “upgraded on overnight review to 89, equal to the career-best Greatest Honour earned in the Holy Bull.
“This had to be a difficult figure to make,” Privman added, “as there were no other two-turn dirt races on the marathon card. And let’s not kid ourselves -- Greatest Honour wasn’t exactly running against the second coming of Hindoo (shout out to the late, great Joe Hirsch).”
Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey trains Greatest Honour. McGaughey has expressed confidence that Greatest Honour will get better as the distances get longer than 1 1/16 miles. This student of breeding concurs with that distinct possibility. Tapit has sired three winners of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (Tonalist in 2014, Creator in 2016 and Tapwrit in 2017). Greatest Honour’s dam, Tiffany’s Honour, is a half-sister to two winners of the Belmont (Jazil in 2006 and Rags to Riches in 2007).
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:
1. Essential Quality
2. Life Is Good
3. Greatest Honour
4. Caddo River
6. Concert Tour
7. Medina Spirit
8. Hot Rod Charlie
10. Roman Centurian
CESARIO DIES IN JAPAN
It was with sadness I learned that Cesario died of a ruptured artery last Saturday at Northern Farm in Japan at the age of 19. She was Japan’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2005.
Cesario won the Group I Japanese Oaks at about 1 1/2 miles on the turf in 2005. Later that same year she was sent to Hollywood Park to run in the American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles on the grass.
Keep in mind that back then, horses from Japan did not do all that well on the world stage, unlike these days.
I was at Hollywood Park the day that Cesario competed in the American Oaks. She ran off before the race to such an extent that I thought she might be scratched. She pretty much ran a race before then also running in a race.
Amazingly, Cesario won by four lengths. It remains one of the most impressive performances by a racehorse that I have ever seen.
“Making a huge statement for Japanese racing, Cesario demolished an international field of 3-year-old fillies in winning the $750,000 American Oaks on the Hollywood Park grass,” BloodHorse’s Jack Shinar wrote. “A granddaughter of Sunday Silence, the strapping bay filly Cesario parlayed a victory in the Japanese Oaks into an invitation to the American Oaks and became the first Japanese-bred horse to win a Grade I stakes race in the United States.”
Cesario produced Japanese champions Saturnalia and Leontes, plus Epiphaneia, who won the Group I Japan Cup in 2014.
Epiphaneia is the sire of Daring Tact, who won the Japanese Filly Triple Crown last year.
Leontes is the sire of Pink Kamehameha, winner of the $1.5 million Saudi Derby on Feb. 20. Runner-up in the Saudi Derby was U.S. shipper Cowan, who previously had also finished a distant second to Caddo River in Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 22.
Cowan, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, is scheduled to make his next start in the UAE Derby at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. That race offers 100-50-20-10 qualifying points toward this year’s 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl moved up to No. 2 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll in the aftermath of her two-length win on a sloppy track in last Sunday’s Grade III Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn. The 6-year-old Kentucky-bred Tapizar mare, trained by Brad Cox, now sports a lifetime record of 14 victories in 16 starts.
Monomoy Girl was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly. She did not race at all in 2019, then was voted a 2020 Eclipse Award as champion older dirt female.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 382 Charlatan (23)
2. 349 Monomoy Girl (14)
3. 300 Knicks Go
4. 289 Maxfield (4)
5. 159 Swiss Skydiver
6. 158 Mystic Guide (1)
7. 152 Colonel Liam
8. 92 Gamine
9. 77 Jesus’ Team
10. 70 Channel Maker
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 405 Essential Quality (37)
2. 336 Greatest Honour (1)
3. 302 Life Is Good (2)
4. 258 Mandaloun (1)
5. 206 Medina Spirit
6. 174 Caddo River
7. 121 Concert Tour
8. 91 Keepmeinmind
9. 74 Risk Taking
10. 39 Proxy