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Aaron previews the 2022 Woodward Stakes (G1) at Belmont at the Big A, then gives his top picks and longshots. The 2022 Whitney Stakes (G1) champion Life Is Good leads a short field of 5 as the Todd Pletcher trainee makes his last start before the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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WinStar Farm and CHC Inc.’s multiple Grade 1-winner and $4-million earner Life Is Good headlines Saturday’s 69th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
This year’s edition of the prestigious nine-furlong test for 3-year-olds and upward will mark its first running at Aqueduct Racetrack since 1967 when Hall of Famer Damascus bested champions Dr. Fager and Buckpasser. Initially run at Belmont Park in 1954, the Woodward called Saratoga Race Course home from 2006-20 and made a return to Big Sandy last year.
The Woodward co-headlines an action-packed program which also includes the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne – a “Win And You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. Also on the card is the Grade 2, $200,000 Miss Grillo, a “Win And You’re In” for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and the Grade 3, $200,000 Belmont Turf Sprint.
Life Is Good’s sensational record includes seven graded stakes victories, three at Grade 1 level, as well as nine triple digit Beyer Speed Figures. His lone non-triple digit number came in his 9 1/2-length debut romp at Del Mar in November 2020, where he recorded a 91.
A 4-year-old bay son of Into Mischief, Life Is Good has banked $4,086,700 through a 10-8-1-0 ledger, which includes a last out two-length victory in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Whitney on August 6 at Saratoga Race Course over Grade 1-winners Happy Saver and Hot Rod Charlie, which garnered a 107 Beyer. He displayed the same frontrunning fashion to victory in his prior effort in the seven-furlong Grade 2 John A. Nerud on July 2 at Belmont Park, which saw a career-best 112 Beyer.
Life Is Good capped a prominent 3-year-old season with a victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar, before commencing this year’s campaign with a triumph over last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year Knicks Go in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup on January 29 at Gulfstream Park.
Life Is Good has remained in Saratoga this month following the summer meet, where he has continued to impress Pletcher with his strong morning training. On Saturday, he breezed five furlongs in 1:00.76 over the Spa main track.
“He’s a very consistent and impressive horse to watch train,” said Pletcher, who previously won the Woodward with Lawyer Ron , Quality Road  and Liam’s Map . “He’s basically done that every single time we’ve breezed ever since he came to us. You always want things to go smoothly. He’s an extremely talented horse. We just always hope that everything goes according to plan. It doesn’t ever surprise me, but it is just remarkable how consistent he’s been every single day he’s out there. Every breeze is impressive and that’s just what we’ve come to expect of him.”
With the Woodward being held at the Big A this fall, the race will be contested around two turns as opposed to Belmont’s one-turn configuration for the nine-furlong distance.
“I don’t think it hurts,” Pletcher said. “I think we probably would have ended up in the Woodward even if it were run at Belmont Park this year around one turn. But I do like the two turns. It gives him the opportunity to get another two-turn race under his belt prior to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Bred in Kentucky by Gary and Mary West, Life Is Good is out of the Distorted Humor mare Beach Walk and was bought for $525,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, where he was consigned by Paramount Sales. Beach Walk has a yearling colt by Candy Ride as well as a full brother to Life Is Good born this year.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., the pilot aboard all three of Life Is Good’s Grade 1 victories, will retain the mount from post 1.
Pletcher has also entered Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith and Spendthrift Farm’s Grade 2- winner Keepmeinmind, who was last seen finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 3 at Saratoga. The 4-year-old son of Laoban made his first start in 11 months two starts back when besting nine-furlong allowance company on July 22 at the Spa in his debut for Pletcher.
Pletcher saddled both Keepmeinmind and Dynamic One in the 10-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup with both horses hampered by a slow pace set by Tax and the pace-pressing winner Olympiad.
“He’s doing well. He came out of the Jockey Club in good order,” Pletcher said. “Unfortunately, he and Dynamic One were last and second last turning up the backside and there wasn’t much pace. Hopefully, he can make a step forward this time.”
Initially campaigned by Robertino Diodoro, Keepmeinmind broke his maiden in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in November 2020 at Churchill Downs following a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. Although winless in seven starts at three, he enjoyed a prosperous year which included finishing second to Essential Quality in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga and a close third in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby at Thistledown.
Joel Rosario, who piloted Yoshida to victory in the 2018 Woodward, will ride Keepmeinmind from post 4.
Dual surface stakes winner Law Professor enters the Woodward off a winning debut for trainer Rob Atras in the restricted Tapit on September 1 over the turf at Kentucky Downs.
Owned by Twin Creeks Racing Stable, the 4-year-old Constitution gelding ended his 3-year-old year on a winning note in an off-the-turf edition of the Grade 2 Mathis Mile at Santa Anita while under the care of trainer Michael McCarthy.
Breaking from post 2, Law Professor will be ridden by Jose Ortiz.
Trin-Brook Farm’s graded stakes winner Informative will try to spring yet another upset for owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis. The 5-year-old son of Bodemeister lit up the Monmouth Park tote board in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile last June, going off at 79-1 odds. He enters off a 14-1 victory in the Grade 3 Phillip H. Iselin on August 20.
Informative, who breaks from post 5, will be piloted by Dexter Haddock.
Completing the field is the David Jacobson owned and trained Thomas Shelby [post 3, Dylan Davis], an 11-time winning Curlin gelding who enters off an allowance optional claiming victory on September 10 at Monmouth Park.
Previously conditioned by Diodoro, Thomas Shelby proved himself competitive at stakes level when second in the Grade 3 Razorback on February 12 at Oaklawn Park.
The Woodward honors the late chairman of the Jockey Club [1930-50] and proprietor of Bel Air Stud, who campaigned Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Omaha as well as champions Nasrullah, Nashua, Granville and Johnstown. The Woodward is carded as Race 7 on Saturday’s 11-race program. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
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