Historical appraisals require at least several years for a proper analysis, but it’s becoming more and more likely that in time the foal crop of 2018 may deserve special recognition.
Just like the foals of 2004, which included Curling , street-sense , Hard Spun , and the filly Rags to Riches who had a profound impact on the racetrack and breeding shed, the current crop of top 4-year-olds are proving to be highly special.
The retired Essential Quality was the 2-year-old male champion in 2020 and is likely to be the Eclipse Award winner as a 3-year-old. Yet if that voting took place Jan. 30, what happened a day earlier in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by 1/ST BET (G1) at Gulfstream Park, would have shifted the scales.
A scintillating and decisive 3 1/4-length victory in the Pegasus over expected 2021 Horse of the Year and Longines World’s Best Racehorse honoree Knicks GB surely pushed the 4-year-old Life Is Good into a position of leadership among his crop and status as the early favorite to emerge as 2022’s best horse, especially with Knicks Go heading to the breeding shed.
“If they voted today, you would have to say Life Is Good would be 2022 Horse of the Year,” said Brad Cox, trainer of both Pegasus runner-up Knicks Go and Essential Quality, “but there’s still 11 months left in the year and horses have to stay sound. That can be tough.”
Life Is Good defeats Knicks Go in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes at Gulfstream Park
There are indeed many months and miles to go and given the quality of the 4-year-old crop and its new superstar, there should indeed be some highly exciting times ahead.
Much of the excitement will center on where Life Is Good pops up next, and that’s likely to be in the Middle East at a yet to be determined locale.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said all options are on the table for the son of Into Mischief , pending how he recovers from his victory in 1:48.91 in the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus. While that could mean the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) on Feb. 26 may be in play, prior to the Pegasus Pletcher’s conversations with the ownership group of WinStar Farm and China Horse Club centered on the turnaround for the Saudi Cup being a bit short. The final flight for Saudi Cup horses is expected to leave the United States for Saudi Arabia Feb. 16.
The two best boys back home at Palm Beach Downs after making Team Pletcher very proud yesterday! (yes I was crinkling a peppermint wrapper to get them to pose for this picture) #ColonelLiam #LifeIsGood #PegasusWorldCup pic.twitter.com/qna0hXpG8B
— Amelia Green (@Ameliajgreen) January 30, 2022
If it’s a no-go for the Saudi Cup then the March 26 $12 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airlines (G1) would be the likely choice.
“We’ll watch the horse for a few days and huddle up and come up with a plan,” said Pletcher, who reported Life Is Good came out of the Pegasus in good spirits Sunday.
The foreign races reflect the strength of the 4-year-old class as two of the main players for the Saudi Cup are Hot Rod Charlie , who won last year’s Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at 3 and was second in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), and Mandaloon , who was second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and was awarded the victory in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1) when Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified for interference.
Then there’s Flightline , a 4-year-old who has the kind of freakish early speed that makes him a worthy and exciting rival for the equally speedy Life Is Good.
The son of Carpet trained by John Sadler is 3-for-3 in his career and is targeting the March 5 San Carlos Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park . He was last seen romping by 11 1/2 lengths while capturing the seven-furlong Runhappy Malibu Stakes (G1) in a blistering 1:21.37. Based on that performance alone, a Life Is Good vs. Flightline matchup is the race that most racing fans have atop their wish lists for 2022.
“I hope and I’m sure Life Is Good’s people hope that at some point in the future Flightline and Life Is Good will be in the same starting gate,” said Terry Finley, president and CEO of West Point Thoroughbreds, which owns Flightline in a partnership with Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, Summer Wind Equine, and Woodford Racing. “People will be talking about that race for generations to come.”
Beyond Flightline, consider such 4-year-olds as multiple grade 1 winner Jackie’s Warrior , the only horse to beat Life Is Good, Midnight Bourbon , and even Stilleto Boy , who was third in the Pegasus, and you have an outstanding group of active runners from a crop that also includes classic winners Essential Quality, Rombauer , who has also been retired, and Medina Spirit, who passed away in December.
“It’s a really strong group of horses,” said Pletcher, who also trains the favorite for the champion 3-year-old filly crown, Malathaat , “and Life Is Good is a very special part of it.”
Cox, who trains Mandaloun, says he’s eager to face Life Is Good with Juddmonte Farms’ grade 1 winner and sees a wide array talent among the 4-year-olds that are indeed some historical parallels.
“This could be a group like the Curlin, Hard Spun, Street Sense group, who were tremendous racehorses that made an impact on the breed,” he said. “It takes a few years for that to develop but this seems like a good, very, very deep group and we were fortunate to have our hands on a few of them. It’s an exceptional crop and a horse like Rombauer might have been a champion in a different year.”
Time will, of course, tell, but given the quality, consistency, and durability of the leading members of the 2018 crop and the brilliance that Life Is Good has displayed in winning six of his seven career starts, history should be their friend in the years to come.
Even more importantly, with all of the court cases and negative publicity surrounding the sport, a year of phenomenal matchups on the racetrack would be manna from heaven.
“I think I can speak for everyone in the industry, after all we have been going through lately, we need a great year on the racetrack,” Finley said.
With some luck, it just might happen.