• Prep race news plus latest prices generally available with British-based bookmakers
By Nicholas Godfrey
4-1f (price for the Kentucky Derby) Life Is Good (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith)
Santa Anita (March 6): San Felipe Stakes G2 $300,000, 1m½f, dirt
Sire: Into Mischief
Owner: WinStar Farm and China Horse Club
Likely target: Santa Anita Derby (April 3)
If there was any doubt about which horse was Bob Baffert’s first string on the Classic trail for 2021 as he chases his seventh Kentucky Derby triumph, then there isn’t any more.
Shooting from the inside gate like a bullet from a gun, Life Is Good produced an awesome display to thrash a decent-looking field of Derby hopefuls by eight lengths – and this despite wandering in the stretch. No wonder he has supplanted unbeaten Breeders’ Cup hero Essential Quality as favourite for the first Saturday in May.
Never seriously challenged on the front end, the son of Into Mischief (also sire of Baffert’s 2020 Derby winner Authentic) clocked what his trainer described as a “serious, serious time” as he took his unbeaten record to three. “I think he’s really special,” added Baffert, speaking to the Daily Racing Form. He also claimed second place for good measure with Medina Spirit.
Anyone looking to pick holes might suggest he had it entirely his own way after breaking in the clear and might have been getting tired as he wandered about, although jockey Mike Smith – who was quoting Muhammad Ali about the horse’s ability to float and sting – said he was distracted by the video board.
Yet although there’s still another furlong and a half on top at Churchill Downs, Baffert is a past master at stretching out these pacey types and Life Is Good looks to have come on a bundle since his last run.
Bob Baffert (trainer): “The dream continues. He showed from Day One he’s an exceptional horse – I was hoping for something like this. He’s been doing some incredible things in the morning. The way he’s been breezing, I think he’s really special.
“I like the way he got away from the gate, both of my horses got away cleanly, they were in a good spot. Down the backside that’s where this horse can get a little tough and I was hoping we’d get a little 47 and change. But Mike he just sat on him, he was doing it so easily, I saw 46 and four I said, ‘well, I think I could live with that. I always thought he could be a super horse, we’ll find out today’, but at the quarter pole I could tell he was just still cruising, just doing it easy.”
Mike Smith (jockey): “This horse is like that Muhammad Ali song – he floats like a butterfly, and stings like a bee. He’s just so talented. I had a strong hold on him down to the wire, just holding onto him making sure that he stayed straight. “I think he showed that he could get the distance, when a horse can get a mile and sixteenth the way he did today, it gives you every indication they could go an eighth of a mile further.”
Kentucky Derby betting
Bet365: 4 Life Is Good, 8 Essential Quality, 10 Greatest Honour, 12 Caddo River, Concert Tour, 16 Helium, Keepmeinmind, Prevalence, Risk Taking, 18 Medina Spirit, 20 Hot Rod Charlie, Mandaloun, Nicky The Vest, 25 bar.
Gotham: Weyburn courageous in 47-1 shocker
25-1 Weyburn (Jimmy Jerkens/Trevor McCarthy)
Aqueduct (March 6): Gotham Stakes G3 $300,000, 1m, dirt
Sire: Pioneerof The Nile
Owner: Chiefswood Stables Limited
Likely target: Wood Memorial (Aqueduct, April 3)
A shock result on the New York route to the Kentucky Derby as 47-1 longshot Weyburn got the better of a terrific final-furlong duel with Crowded Trade for a game success in the final jump.
The winner, who was reluctant to load, was making his first appearance since his December maiden breaker owing to a foot abscess. He is not even nominated for the Triple Crown, although that situation is likely to be rectified at the next entry stage. Late nominations at $6,000 close on March 29.
Don’t write off odds-on favourite Highly Motivated just yet. He finished with some purpose to claim third on his seasonal debut on a day that favoured those who raced closer to the pace such as Weyburn, who was close up throughout.
Jimmy Jerkens (trainer): “We thought he would like the distance, ultimately. His last two works were sensational. He’s kind of a quirky horse. The pony man takes him every morning because he’s tough and wants to wheel. He’s still a little kid. He doesn’t trust everybody. This is just really satisfying because it’s been a tough winter and we loved him from day one. He didn’t run first out and we didn’t know what to think. Thank God we stuck to our guns. I think he’ll end up being a decent colt.”
Tampa Bay Derby: Helium gets Casse excited
16-1 Helium (Mark Casse/Jose Ferrer)
Tampa Bay Downs (March 6): Tampa Bay Derby G2 $400,000, 1m½f, dirt
Owner: D.J. Stable
Likely target: Kentucky Derby (Churchill Downs, May 1)
Having won twice on the all-weather at Woodbine last year, Helium stayed unbeaten as he switched to dirt. After a slow break, he made steady progress before taking the lead five wide under a drive on the turn before rallying again to hold late-running Hidden Stash and then drawing away to score by three-quarters.
Trainer Mark Casse told the Daily Racing Form that Helium is likely to go straight to Churchill Downs; he is set to be Triple Crown-nominated at the next entry stage.
Favourite Candy Man Rocket faded on the far turn and was allowed to amble home.
Mark Casse (trainer): “He trained well enough that we thought he deserved a chance. This horse is something, because he got away a little slow today, and we had planned on him being closer I was going to be happy with second! He’s a beautiful horse, he’s bred to run all day long and he looks like a Derby horse, so it’s exciting.”