THE final weekend of prep races before the Breeders’ Cup in a month’s time takes place in the US tonight with the Grade 1 Woodward at Aqueduct, filling in for Belmont, and the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes on the west coast at Santa Anita.
One of the top horses in the US, the Todd Pletcher-trained Life Is Good faces only four rivals in the Woodward. “You can’t control those things like field size. You run against who is there,” Todd Pletcher said earlier this week.
The four-year-old has won eight of his 10 career starts with Grade 1 wins this year in both the Whitney at Saratoga in August and the January’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes. Yet, with just five runs in his life, Flightline has stolen his thunder this season and is rated higher in world rankings.
Aqueduct is an easier two-turn nine furlongs and this should also favour Life Is Good who breaks on the rail. He did have a hard race in the heat in Saratoga but has had enough time to recover.
Pletcher also saddles Keepmeinmind, a four-year-old who was fifth in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga. He has won only two of 13 starts but has two placings in Grade 1 races for original trainer Robertino Diodoro. Informative won the Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park. A top-form Life Is Good should easily overcome these.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Gulfport heads the field for the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes where Brad Cox’s Justiy colt Verifying is the danger. Gulfport won his maiden in June at Churchill Downs before overwhelming five other juveniles there to win the Bashford Manor Stakes by 12 1/4 lengths in July and has finished second in two graded stakes at Saratoga including the Hopeful Stakes.
Tomorrow a field of seven fillies headed by Grade 1 Spinaway winner line up in the Grade 1 Beldame where the danger may be Repole Stable’s Chocolate Gelato, an over-eight-length maiden winner at Saratoga.
The Grade 2 Lukas Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs is quailty race as it features the shock Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike taking on two decent four-year-olds in Art Collector and Hot Rod Charlie and the five-year-old Happy Saver. Art Collector won last year’s Grade 1 Woodward and comes in off two wins.
Happy Saver and Hot Rod Charlie chased home Life Is Good in the Whitney with the former putting up a good effort.
It’s a tough task for the Derby winner who was sixth and fourth in the Belmont and Travers since his Derby win but this is back to the track of his big moment and where he also won his maiden by a wide margin.
The Awesome Again features the ‘rest of the west’ coast as Flightline heads straight to the Breeders’ Cup.
Behind him in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes three weeks ago at Del Mar, the runner-up Country Grammer, third-place Royal Ship and fourth-place Express Train reappear. Country Grammer finished seven lengths clear of the third and his overall body of work, including the Dubai World Cup win, should give him another Grade 1 here.
Richard Mandella-trained Royal Ship won the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap and the John Shirreffs-trained Express Train took the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in the early part of the year.
Baffert also runs Azul Coast, three-year-old High Connection and Defunded.