Trainer Bob Baffert sent out the 1-2 finishers in the $100,000 Grade III Sham Stakes, the first local Triple Crown prep of the year, on Saturday at Santa Anita for the second consecutive year.
Last year, Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Authentic won the Sham, named for the 1973 Santa Anita Derby winner, by 7 3/4 lengths as the 6-5 favorite over stablemate Azul Coast.
On Saturday, it was 1-5 favorite Life Is Good who found the winner’s circle, holding off the second Baffert entrant, Medina Spirit, by three-quarters of a length.
Authentic’s winning time for the mile was 1:37.57, whereas Life Is Good, a 9 1/2-length winner in his debut at Del Mar on Nov. 22, completed the distance in 1:36.63.
Life Is Good, a son of Into Mischief who was making his first start around two turns, looked like an easy winner midway through the stretch until Medina Spirit made a late charge to cut into what at one time was a four-length lead.
It was Baffert’s record seventh Sham victory and his third consecutive following wins with McKinzie in 2018 and Authentic.
Winning jockey Mike Smith said Life Is Good is an immensely talented colt, but he got to looking around in the stretch while his lead diminished. Smith said the winner was watching himself on the big screen in the infield.
“But I was watching as well so I saw (Medina Spirit) coming on the outside,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to panic. I just showed it (riding crop) to him a little bit. What I liked really was after the race, when I stood up and (Medina Spirit) got next to me, he (Life Is Good) jumped back in the bridle and I had to pull him up.”Just how talented is Life Is Good?
“We don’t know yet how talented,” Smith said. “We haven’t gotten close yet.”
Baffert said the race reminded him of last year’s running, when Authentic started clowning around in the stretch.
“(Authentic) looked like a drunk out there coming down (the stretch),” Baffert said. “He almost hit the rail and stuff. Just to get the two turns out of the way, it’s big. I always feel that the second race is most important, you’re going up against winners.”
Just like after last year’s Haskell Invitational, when Authentic lost a big lead in the stretch before holding off Ny Traffic by a nose for the victory, Baffert didn’t seem too concerned that Medina Spirit made it a horse race at the end.
“Medina is a nice horse, he’s a good horse,” he said. “I could tell that Mike was just cruising out there.”
The Hall of Fame trainer believes Life Is Good got a lot out of the race.
“It was just the kind of race we were looking for,” Baffert said. “They ran pretty fast. These are two good horses. It is so exciting he passed the two-turn test.”
Life Is Good, who picked up 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points with the victory, carved out fractions of 23.56, 46.67 and 1:10.66 en route to his gate-to-wire victory.
Medina Spirit, third choice in the wagering at 9-1 who won his maiden debut by three lengths on Dec. 11 at Los Alamitos, was 13 lengths clear of third-place finisher and second betting choice Parnelli (9-2) at the wire.
San Gabriel Stakes
Anothertwistafate, ridden by Joel Rosario, won the $200,000 Grade II turf event for older horses by 2 1/4 lengths over Bob and Jackie.
Trained by Peter Miller, the 5-year-old son of Scat Daddy went postward at 5-2 and ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.63 for his fifth victory in 10 starts in only his second try on the grass.
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