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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 30, 2022 – This being NFL championship weekend and all, it was fair to expect that the sixth renewal of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational could be a titanic competitive struggle. The makings were there.

But at the end of the day, Chiefs vs. Bills it wasn’t; it was more like Bengals vs. Buccaneers instead, where a newly, unofficially, retired legendary QB appeared to be two more pass attempts away from sending the event into overtime.

However, the Pegasus turned out to be the equivalent of a Super Bowl of 36 years ago when another intriguing pre-game match-up turned into a rout: Bears 46 – Patriots 10. And it was never a close contest, just like Pegasus VI.

As we queued up waiting to pick up credentials, we had plenty of company alongside as the walkup crowd stood in line, even after two races had been run.

Seats were sold out, one ticket seller crying out “$80, standing room only.” The atmosphere was dynamic, the energy was Super Bowl intense.

The energy remained charged throughout the day, reaching a crescendo with the singing of the National Anthem prior to the Pegasus Turf horses entering the ring, a race Todd Pletcher and Irad Ortiz Jr. would use like some million-dollar warmup act.

What Pegasus VI became was the equivalent of Will Hunting pressing a napkin against a bar window taunting his vanquished rival inside: “I got her number; how do you like ‘dem apples?”

In the end, Life is Good had Knicks Go’s number. Not only did he beat him, he beat him at his own game.

The audience was so divided that the horses were even money and 4-5, respectively, indicating the match-race nature of the event, even if that might say as much about pari-mutuel takeout as it did the supporting cast.

While betting opinions were evenly divided, the perception of the tactics Life is Good needed to beat the “World’s Best Racehorse” — dubbed on Tuesday at the Longines Awards ceremony held at the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket, England  — were nearly unanimous:

At some point Life is Good would have to look Knicks Go in the eye and prove his equal in a battle of equine will, aka class.

The problem for Knicks Go was that the challenger intended to test him from the jump, Life is Good clearly proved to be the superior early speed, taking the certain 2021 Horse of the Year out of his best go.

The challenger took the race from the champion midway of the first turn, conjuring Don Meredith’s “Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over.” Those who came to see an epic battle had to be disappointed. Life is Good took all the drama out of the contest.

There are a handful of trainers who are at Pletcher’s level with returnees pointing to a big spot, but not many-if any-his equal.

Colonel Liam, in repeating last year’s victory in the Pegasus Turf, was making his first start since going wrong in the G1 Manhattan, June 5th.

And Life is Good had not run since dominating the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on November 6th, but trained brilliantly into the race, alternating weekly five-furlong works with leg-stretching, stamina-building gallops.

Think Charlie Whittingham, only with much better hair.

The future seems limitless for “the best horse I ever sat on, on dirt,” said Ortiz. Multi-champion developer Pletcher said afterward, “I can’t think of one,” when asked if any horse he trained was better than Life is Good.

The future for Life is Good is limitless for the horse who has the Breeders’ Cup Classic as his ultimate goal. But that’s way down the road. There’s a new confrontation that fans already are clamoring for.

The hope is that newly installed NYRA Vice-President of Racing Frank Gabriel Jr. will return the most prestigious mile race in America, the Metropolitan Handicap, aka the Met Mile, to its rightful place on the Belmont Park calendar, Memorial Day.

If Life is Good is pointed that way, it would be the perfect opportunity to show the racing realm that the current “fastest figure” horse in the world, Flightline, has the class to match his superior turn of foot.

Assuming a clean break for both in a one-turn mile over Big Sandy, maybe fans will be treated to the the speed confrontation they were denied yesterday by Life is Good, who turned a match race into a one-horse tour de force.

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10 Responses

  1. Perfectly said. Flightline’s people could of course turn down a more than good enough offer/purse boost, but this will be an early and important test of what the new NYRA brass is made of. They have the premier tool in the game when it comes to brilliant colts with breeding shed dreams; it’s time to use it. Put it back on the day it belongs and open the dialogue with the Cali connections right now.

    If NYRA makes the effort and still can’t get them to the starting gate together, it’s one thing. But if they are not proactive in this spot with the potential sport shifting opportunity sitting out there, it will be inexcusable and a very ominous sign against having any future expectations out of this administration.

  2. A lot to unpack, Doc. Of course, there are the connections of BOTH horses. Neither has talked about the race, and the timing is virtually the same–end May early June. Flightline is undefeated, which is a consideration; more downside for them.

    That’s the business of it, not the sport of it, but sport mostly runs a bad second to business considerations, like any other endeavour.

    My principle argument for Memorial Day, other than a fantastic tradition, is that the Met Mile deserves to be a focal point, the fulcrum of an event day, not a Belmont Stakes “In Other Races” also-ran.

    And think about it, A $1 million or more purse is a pittance compared to an overall perfect record that means hundreds of thousands for each service. I’m on your side and, alas, the world is imperfect.

  3. I guess that it may be out of place,but I HAD to ask you,J.Pricci,something which it happens every year,especially in cold weather, and it just happened Again in the last couple of races,today,Thursday,at Aquaduct, a track which I haven’t played in months and still will stay away from until…The favorite,even at 4/5,goes to the front at a * normal* pace On A Dead Rail! Of course, both horses gave up up well before the stretch! Can-t jockeys tell when a rail Is like going up hill OR are they just following trainer/owner orders ?? Both winners closed undisturbed in the middle of the track,at great odds while the early speed on the rail died out. Can-t a horse go to the front away from the rail,even if he/she will run a couple of lengths longer( than staying inside) ? At least the horse won’t be wasted going against the Bias.. What gives? Would you swim against the tides ?? Thanks.

    1. I could never last swimming against the tides, JG. I learned a long time ago from Mr. Cordero himself–don’t remember who he was riding at the time, some speed horse of Laz Barrera’s I think– and he kept him in the middle of track, there was no bias that day.

      Ran into him the next day and asked why. He said when they train in the morning, horses learn when they’re on the rail that’s the time to go fast. Keep them outside and they relax. There’s no reason to stay on the rail and a good jockey knows when the rail is dead. Beyond that, I can’t tell you why jockeys do what they do…

  4. I have enough Florida to hold my interest at this time of year. Will watch the Withers tomorrow, I do know that, for obvious reasons: Love those 3YO preps.

    1. Hate to disappoint you Charlie but I think expressly because of the events in 1975, we will never see an intentional match race again. I would love to see it too but don’t think it ever would come to fruition…

  5. I Want A Major Two Horse Match Race Between Fightline Vs Life Is Good At The Met Mile This June Of This Year At Belmont Park It Will Be The First Major Two Horse Match Race Since 1975 When Ruffian Meet Foolish Pleasure Please Let It Happen America Racing Fans And The World Will Be Watching The First Major Two Horse Match Race Since 1975 Please? Yes

  6. Sorry once again. And does it have to be a match of two horses? As fast as the two you named are, they will turn it into a match race at some juncture and I can live with that. So, too, can the horses.

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