Nothing makes a betting needle move like a runaway victory in a horse race. Never mind how bad the competition might be. That 10- or 12- or umpteen-length winner must be a superstar.
It was not quite that big a margin Sunday at Del Mar. But it was big enough for a 2-year-old colt named Life Is Good to get racing fans swooning like bobby-soxers — or whatever anyone under 70 says to describe the desperate panting of those who could not wait to get to social media to make their pronouncements about greatness in waiting.
I must admit that whenever I see those sorts of declarations based on less than a minute and a half of evidence, I scowl. Every parade of popular opinion, after all, must have a cynical cloud to rain on it. That cloud be I.
That reminds me. Wasn’t there all sorts of gobsmacked reaction to Hidden Scroll’s debut nearly two years ago in the slop at Gulfstream Park on the Pegasus World Cup undercard? Talk about a buzz horse. He was being compared with Pegasus himself. His odds to win the Kentucky Derby plunged (although I was silly enough to take 90-1 on him thanks to a booking error).
Then he finished sixth in the Florida Derby, and it was downhill after that. See? I told me so.
Although the Hidden Scroll story is not done, we can write the chapter that says he did not get to the Kentucky Derby. And that he has finished an average of 13¼ lengths behind in his two Grade 1 starts. And that he has won only once since that soggy day at Hallandale Beach — and that was in a forgettable allowance for “non-ones” last March. My dark cloud was prescient.
But where were we? Oh, that’s right. Somewhere near San Diego, where a colt trained by Bob Baffert with the same sire as this year’s Derby winner and the same owners and jockey as the 2018 Triple Crown champion ran away to a 9½-length victory in a 6½-furlong debut.
One respected race watcher called Life Is Good’s premiere the best he had seen since Curlin. Another decided it was so good that it deserved a poll question: Will his Beyer Speed Figure be over or under 100?
Now for my cloudburst. His Beyer was 90. No fewer than 12 performances by 2-year-olds this year have rated higher. (I should note here that my friend Bruno De Julio, the respected workout analyst, scolded me on his “Racing with Bruno Podcast” on Tuesday, saying I should trust my eyes and not someone’s analytics. But again, I digress.)
As I always preach whenever there is a Life Is Good or a Hidden Scroll or some other dazzling flavor of the week to come along during Derby prep season, yes, they are good horses. Yes, they may be stars one day. They may even win the Kentucky Derby. But would I take 12-1 odds in a futures bet on any of them right now? Bleep, no. I would not have taken that price for Secretariat in the fall of 1972.
This goes beyond the idea that any young horse has to get through the next five months without getting hurt. He has to show something more than a daylight victory against a small field of sprinters that may never amount to anything. Yes, he was geared down last weekend. But what happens when Mike Smith tries to gear him up? And around two turns?
Something that Bruno did not scold me for spotting was in Life Is Good’s bloodlines. Brisnet’s past performances noted that his sire, Into Mischief, had an average winning distance during his racing career of 6.8 furlongs. His damsire, Distorted Humor, won at an average distance of 7.1 furlongs. Well, then, he had better be fast at a sprinter’s distance. But at 10 furlongs next May? That has “whole ’nuther” written all over it.
Authentic did defy identical bloodlines on the top side and a similar pattern on the bottom. But that was in September. I am betting that next year’s Derby will not be that late, and I know Life Is Good will not be as developed.
There is every chance that Baffert and Life Is Good will dissuade me this winter from my skeptical position. By then the odds will get shorter than 12-1. But at this point it is like being deep in my own territory and being marched half the distance to the goal line from the 2. So what? I will take my chances.
It is too early in the game to be so invested in a horse that just turned in a magnificent-looking sprint. This weekend’s Kentucky Derby Future Wager, the parimutuel version staged by Churchill Downs from noon Thursday to 6 p.m. Sunday ET, will bear that out. It is the playground of the public bettor. Anyone serious about finding a price on a Derby horse is avoiding that wading pool and jumping into the deep end here in Nevada at William Hill or, starting next week, at Circa Sports. (There is also global wagering, but that comes with a warning label authored by out-of-work surgeons general.)
And for the bettor who has a clocker’s inside information on the next can’t-miss phenom, best wishes finding a bookmaker who will offer a competitive price. One horseplayer tagged me on Twitter and claimed he tried to get someone to put a price on Life Is Good and found no takers offshore — and certainly none in Las Vegas. Sadly, those ships sailed when favorites kept winning the Derby during the ’10s, leaving bookmakers on the hook for inflated odds.
For those who feel glum now that these 1,000 or so words ruined their Thanksgiving, take heart. The parade with all those patched-up balloons that float through Manhattan courtesy of the Miracle on 34th Street department store is scheduled to go on despite the pandemic. Just don’t give me 8-5 on Bullwinkle making it through.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Grade 1 races the next two weeks will be featured on this week’s RFRP. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey will talk about Code Of Honor’s run in Friday’s Clark Stakes and Performer’s bid to win next week’s Cigar Mile. Mike Shutty, creator of the Super Screener, will preview this week’s Clark and the Kentucky Jockey Club stakes at Churchill Downs. VSiN’s Vinny Magliulo will handicap races at Aqueduct and Del Mar. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod will be available for download Friday and free subscription now at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.