Life Is Good and Olympiad go head-to-head in the Whitney Stakes


The Whitney Stakes, Saturday, Aug. 6 on NBC and Peacock, is a race that is held in the highest regard in thoroughbred racing, but why? What factors make this race so important on the racing calendar?

I’ve looked at the last 25 runnings of the Whitney, and here are a few of the key factors that emerged:

  1. Purse: Each year since 2000, the purse of the Whitney has ranged between $750,000 and $1.5 million.
  2. The Whitney/Breeders’ Cup Classic connection: In the past 25 years, six horses have won the Whitney and the Classic in the same year, and they are an impressive group. They include Awesome Again (1998), Invasor (2006), Blame (2010), Fort Larned (2012), Gun Runner (2017) and Knicks Go (2021).
  3. The Whitney/Older Male Eclipse Award connection: In this 25-year span, nine Whitney winners have won the Older Male Eclipse Award in the same year. They are: Victory Gallop (1999), Lemon Drop Kid (2000), Invasor (2006), Lawyer Ron (2007), Blame (2010), Honor Code (2015), Gun Runner (2017), Improbable (2020) and Knicks Go (2021).
  4. The sweep of Horse of the Year, the Older Male Eclipse Award and winning the Whitney and the Breeders’ Cup Classic: Three horses in the past 25 years have accomplished this feat. They are: Invasor (2006), Gun Runner (2017) and Knicks Go (2021).
  5. Location, location, location: While some older horses opt for Del Mar’s Pacific Classic at this time of year, the attraction of Saratoga and the prestige of winning the premier race for older horses at the meet is undeniable. Almost invariably, the Whitney attracts the top older horses in training on the East Coast and the Midwest, at the very least.
  6. Timing: The Whitney is run in early August, which is perfect to start a fall campaign that will culminate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

RELATED: Breeders’ Cup returns to Santa Anita for record 11th time

This year, there is a highlighted matchup in the Whitney between two outstanding horses who have never faced each other. In addition, there are three other contenders who would not surprise anyone if they defeated the top two, as they are Grade 1 winners in their own right with a solid record of accomplishments.

Anticipated matchup between Life Is Good and Olympiad

The top two contenders in the race are Life Is Good and Olympiad, who are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the Aug. 1 edition of the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. The only horse ahead of them in the poll is the seemingly unbeatable Flightline, who is prepping for the Sept. 3 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. His trainer, John Sadler, has chosen to keep him close to home, knowing that he will have to go east for the Breeders’ Cup in November.

Life Is Good, from the barn of Todd Pletcher, has wins in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, the Pegasus World Cup and most recently, the John A. Nerud Stakes to his credit. The only significant blemish on his record was a fourth place finish in the Dubai World Cup, when he couldn’t get the final furlong on a racing surface that many horses have trouble adapting to. Unlike many horses who endure the trip to Dubai, Life Is Good came back like gangbusters in the John A. Nerud Stakes at Belmont, winning by five lengths in outstanding time. He is likely to be on the lead and try to carry the field the whole way in the Whitney.

Life Is Good is a horse who won six of his first seven starts, with his only defeat in that span coming by a neck to the great Jackie’s Warrior in last year’s H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at Saratoga. A neck defeat to the top sprinter in the country is nothing to be upset about. In the Whitney, the stretch out to nine furlongs could work in favor of Life Is Good, in addition to the fact that it is his second start since returning from Dubai.

RELATED: Epicenter wins the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga

Olympiad is a different story altogether, as he has blossomed in his 4-year-old season, winning five in a row. His win in his last start, the Stephen Foster Stakes, was a dominant performance, and he seems to get better with each new start. His stalking or mid-pack running style will allow him to use Life Is Good as a target to catch in the final furlong. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has handled him beautifully, and this race should set up very nicely for him. While he has beaten some of the horses he will face in the Whitney, he has never faced one as talented as Life Is Good.

Other contenders to watch in the Whitney Stakes

Those two are the headliners, but there are three Grade 1 winners in the field that have clearly shown that they are capable of an upset at this level. The most well-known of this group is Hot Rod Charlie, who posted his Grade 1 win in last year’s Pennsylvania Derby. He crossed the finish line first in last year’s Haskell Stakes, but was disqualified for interference in the stretch. He has a consistent record of finishing in the top three in some of the most highly regarded races in the country, and he always gives a solid effort.

Another Grade 1 winner in the field is Americanrevolution, who posted his Grade 1 score in last November’s Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. He was second in the Stephen Foster Stakes to Olympiad in his last start, and his stalking style could work in his favor here. Americanrevolution is yet another in the field who seems to always give a strong effort.

Finally, there is Happy Saver, who is the Rodney Dangerfield of the older male stakes horses in the U.S.

He’s a 5-year-old who posted a Grade 1 score in the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a 3-year-old. His last four starts, however, reveal what a high-quality horse he truly is. He placed second in the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup, the 2021 Clark Stakes, and this year’s Alysheba Stakes and Met Mile. Three of these races are Grade 1 events, and the Alysheba Stakes is a Grade 2. The reason I call him a Rodney Dangerfield-type is that his average odds over his last four starts is 6-1. No respect…no respect at all!

The Whitney often achieves a status that is far beyond a stakes race. It is an event in the sense that matchups of this type are only likely to happen in a race with the prestige of the Whitney and in a setting like legendary Saratoga. Without a doubt, it is the key race to take place this year in the lead-up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with a matchup that is worthy of a race with the history of the Whitney.

Watch the 2022 Whitney Stakes on Saturday, Aug. 6 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC,, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

Florida Derby 2023: How to watch, what to know ahead of race day


The stakes are high on the road to the Kentucky Derby, as a field of 12 will vie for $1 million and precious qualifying points at the Curlin Florida Derby on Saturday, April 1 on  CNBC and Peacock. The winner of the race will receive 100 of these points with the runner-up getting 40, the third-place runner receiving 30, the fourth-place finisher receiving 20 and the fifth-place horse receiving 10.

NBC Sports has you covered with everything you need to know about Saturday’s race, which will get underway Saturday at 6 p.m. EST, airing on CNBC and streaming on Peacock. 

Who will be racing at the Florida Derby?

  • Jungfrau
    • Bill Mott (trainer), Paco Lopez (jockey)
  • West Coast Cowboy
    • Saffie Joseph Jr. (trainer), Sonny Leon (jockey)
  • Shaq Diesel
    • Renaldo Richards (trainer), Miguel Vasquez (jockey)
  • Mage
    • Gustavo Delgado (trainer), Luis Saez (jockey)
  • Mr. Peeks
    • Saffie Joseph Jr. (trainer), Edwin Gonzalez (jockey)
  • Nautical Star
    • Saffie Joseph Jr. (trainer), Leonel Reyes (jockey)
  • II Miracolo
    • Antonio Sano (trainer), Jesus Rios (jockey)
  • Mr. Ripple
    • Saffie Joseph Jr. (trainer), Edgard Zayas (jockey)
  • Cyclone Mischief
    • Dale Romans (trainer), Javier Castellano (jockey)
  • Fort Bragg
    • Tim Yakteen (trainer), Joel Rosario (jockey)
  • Forte
    • Todd Pletcher (trainer), Irad Ortiz Jr. (jockey)
  • Dubyuhnell
    • Danny Gargan (trainer), Jose Ortiz (jockey)

Who is the favorite for the Florida Derby?

All eyes will be on the reigning two-year-old champion Forte come Saturday, who has earned 90 points to date and won five of his six career starts. His 2023 campaign got off to a quick start after taking the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream by 4 1/2 lengths on March 4 in his 3-year-old debut. His other recent wins include triumphs at the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The 4/5 morning line favorite and trainer Todd Pletcher, however, will have some obstacles in the way as they look to continue the charge to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. As Pletcher looks to extend his streak to a record-setting seven wins, he’ll need Forte to overcome a post position 11 at Gulfstream Park.

Horses who have drawn post position 11 at the Florida Derby distance of 1 1/8 miles since Gulfstream was reconfigured in 2006 have come away with the crown a mere 2 of 50 times.

RELATED: Forte seems dominant ahead of Florida Derby prep race

What should I look for come race day?

The unlucky post position for the favorite Forte opens the door for other contenders, such as Fort Bragg and Cyclone Mischief.

Fort Bragg, who was initially slated to race at last weekend’s Sunland Derby before re-routing to Gulfstream, will be making his second start for Tim Yakteen. The $700,000 purchase is coming off a fifth-place finish at the Fountain of Youth on March 4 and is 5-1 on the morning line for Florida under Forte.

RELATED: Arabian Knight off Kentucky Derby trail; will return later

Not far behind, however, is Cyclone Mischief, who displayed an encouraging performance at the Fountain of Youth, holding a lead for the first mile before falling to third. The three-year-old and his trainer, Dale Romans, will look to cause a bit more havoc at Gulfstream and earn valuable points to keep the hopes for Louisville alive.

Others to keep an eye on come race time include Mage, who has a total of 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and West Coast Cowboy, who currently sits with six.

RELATED: Kingsbarns has a chance to improve before the Kentucky Derby

How can I watch the Florida Derby?

  • Date: Saturday, April 1st
  • Time: 6 p.m. EST
  • TV Network: CNBC
  • Streaming: Peacock

When is the 2023 Kentucky Derby?

The 2023 Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 6th, and will air across the networks of NBC Sports and Peacock.

For more horse racing coverage and the latest on the road to the Kentucky Derby, visit

Road to the Kentucky Derby: Forte seems dominant ahead of Florida Derby prep race


The numbers speak for themselves. Horses trained by Todd Pletcher have earned more purse money (over $455 million) than those trained by any other person in the history of thoroughbred racing. He has won with an impressive 23% of his starters, and 52% have finished first, second or third.

When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, however, Pletcher becomes a mere mortal. From 62 career starters, he has won the race twice, with two seconds, and four horses who finished 3rd. Many of Pletcher’s Derby horses were longshots who were in the race primarily so their owners could have a horse in America’s biggest race. His two Derby winners, while they were reasonably backed at the windows, were far from odds-on favorites. When Super Saver won in 2010, he paid $18.00 for a $2 win ticket. Always Dreaming, his 2017 winner, was a very lukewarm favorite who returned $11.40 to win.  Many racing fans are used to seeing Pletcher’s horses win at short odds, primarily in New York and Florida. They might be shocked to find out that when Always Dreaming won the 2017 Derby, he was the shortest-odds horse that Pletcher had ever saddled in the Kentucky Derby, despite having odds just under 5-1.

RELATED: Kingsbarns goes wire-to-wire in Louisiana Derby

This Saturday, he will saddle Forte in the Florida Derby. Forte will enter the race on a four-race win streak, with those wins coming in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. He is a 4/5 morning line favorite, and if he wins the race, he should move forward to Louisville as a very strong favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Clearly, he would be the shortest-priced horse Pletcher has ever had in the race, but that almost wasn’t the case.

In 2010, we know that Pletcher scored a mild upset in the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver. He was definitely not the best three-year-old in Pletcher’s barn. That year, he had a horse named Eskendereya, who seemed as unbeatable as Forte does now. He was set to enter the Derby off a three-race win streak. That streak included an 8 ½ length victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and a 9 ¾ length win in the Wood Memorial. The Pletcher barn was devastated when Eskendereya suffered a career-ending leg injury in training one week before the Kentucky Derby. So, instead of saddling the big favorite in the race, he took his shot with four other horses. As the chart tells us, Super Saver benefitted from a rail-skimming ride by Calvin Borel and gave Pletcher his first Derby winner.

As far as I am concerned, any discussion of Forte and the Florida Derby should begin with the concept of professionalism in a racehorse. In one respect you can call him more professional than (dare I say?) Secretariat. Big Red was brilliant, and he showed the ability to win on the engine and from off the pace. Forte’s three career races around two turns, however, are a virtual carbon copy of each other.

As a two-year-old, in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, he was in fifth place after six furlongs, sitting 2 ½ lengths off the lead, and he went on to win by a neck. That race set him up for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In the Juvenile, he was again in fifth after six furlongs, sitting four lengths off the lead before he went on to win by 1 ½ lengths. It’s been said that race horses mature the most between ages two and three, and Forte’s only race this year showed that maturity. In the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream, he was in fourth after six furlongs, sitting about two lengths off the lead, and then he blew by the field, going on to win by 4 ½ lengths.

RELATED: Arabian Knight off Kentucky Derby trail; will return later

This concept of professionalism in a racehorse is based in part on how well the game plan of the trainer is executed by the horse. Forte is a horse that has clearly used his fast cruising speed and his ability to relax off the pace to his advantage. Looking at those three wins he posted around two turns, they show that Forte’s natural ability allows him to idle like a Cadillac behind front-runners, and he has a growing ability to pass his competition on the far turn and power through the stretch on his way to victory. The Pletcher game plan, nurtured through the experience of 62 starts in America’s most important race, has been very convincing thus far.

Working in Forte’s favor even more is the fact that there are several horses in the race who tend to run on the front end, which should set up jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. to make Forte’s signature move to the lead as the front-runners start to tire. Skeptics might point to Forte’s journey from the #11 post as a reason to think he might have a problem here, but the fact that he relaxes in races and has a high cruising speed should allow Ortiz to get a mid-pack position to pounce from.

As for the rest of the field, the two most likely to finish underneath Forte in exotic wagers are Fort Bragg and Cyclone Mischief. Fort Bragg is a horse who sold for $700,000 as a yearling. He was formerly trained by Bob Baffert and has been transferred to the care of Tim Yakteen. He should be near the front end early and is likely to have the class to last longer that some of the other forwardly-placed runners.  Another who has a good chance to hit the board is the Dale Romans-trained Cyclone Mischief. He has raced against some of the top horses of his age group and was third to Forte in the Fountain of Youth, beaten by nearly 6 lengths. Although he was on the lead in that race, I expect him to sit a couple of lengths off the pace here. There are two longer-priced entries here that could hit the board to fill out some tickets. They are the lightly-raced Mage (fourth in the Fountain of Youth with a troubled trip) and West Coast Cowboy, who has tried hard in all three career races and is 20-1 on the morning line.

RELATED: Two Phil’s dominates Jeff Ruby Steaks

For those who think they might be able to beat Forte, consider Todd Pletcher’s record in the Florida Derby. He is the leading trainer in the history of the race with six wins, and five of those have been in the last nine years.

If there is a theme to the Derby prep season thus far, it is Pletcher, Pletcher, Pletcher. In addition to Forte, he trains Kingsbarns, the front-running winner of the Louisiana Derby, and Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapit Trice. Tapit Trice, who will run in the Blue Grass Stakes on NBC a week from Saturday, is an intriguing horse who won the Tampa Bay Derby with come-from-behind style. As talented as Forte is, we don’t know how talented Tapit Trice can be, as he seems to mature more with each start. At Tampa Bay, he was eighth in the middle of the stretch and got home to win by an easy two lengths. He is an 8-1 second choice in the most recent Derby futures pool, with Forte favored at 3-1.

It is always fascinating when the early Derby favorite has his final prep race. We’ll have to sit back and watch on Saturday to determine whether Forte will continue his dominance or if he will hit a bump in the road. His talent and his ability to duplicate his running style from race to race lead me to think that his growth and maturity will continue to be on display in the Florida Derby, and he’ll advance to Kentucky a huge favorite for America’s biggest race.

How to Watch the Florida Derby

  • Date: Saturday, April 1st
  • Time: 6pm ET
  • TV Network: CNBC
  • Streaming: Peacock

When is the 2023 Kentucky Derby?

The 149th Kentucky Derby is set for Saturday, May 6th, and will air across the networks of NBC and Peacock.