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

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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, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

Appeals court strikes down federal horseracing rules act

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NEW ORLEANS — Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, or HISA, is “facially unconstitutional.”

The authority created by the act was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit – in two rulings issued Friday – ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject HISA regulations, but it can’t modify them. And the authority can reject proposed modifications.

Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act – including the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states – that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.

“A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.

The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King and Kurt Engelhardt, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging HISA in a different case.

The chair of the horseracing authority’s board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit court of the Supreme Court.

“If today’s ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until January 10, 2023 at the earliest,” Charles Scheeler said in an email. “We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing, including the launch of HISA’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program on January 1, 2023.”

The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. “Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission’s limited oversight was sufficient,” Irby said in an email.

Among the subjects covered by the authority’s rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation, and the reporting of training and veterinary records.

Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to scandals in the industry involving medication and the treatment of horses.

Duncan wrote that in declaring HISA unconstitutional, “we do not question Congress’s judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling HISA a “federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing.”

Fractional interest in Flightline sells for $4.6 million

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keeneland says a 2.5% fractional interest in Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Flightline has sold for $4.6 million during a special auction before the start of its November Breeding Stock Sale.

Brookdale Farm’s Freddy Seitz signed the ticket for an undisclosed client, the track announced in a release. The sale comes a day after ownership of the 4-year-old son of Tapit retired the unbeaten colt following his record 8\-length victory in Saturday’s $6 million, Grade 1 Classic at Keeneland. Flightline likely locked up Horse of the Year honors with his fourth Grade 1 victory in six starts by a combined victory margin of 71 lengths – dominance that has drawn comparisons to legendary Triple Crown champion Secretariat.

Flightline will begin his breeding career next year at Lane’s End Farms in Versailles, Kentucky, but a stud fee has yet to be determined. West Point Thoroughbreds, part of the bay colt’s ownership, offered the fractional interest. Seitz said the buyer wanted to “make a big splash” and get more involved in the business.

“With a special horse like (Flightline) all you can do is get involved and then just hope for the best,” Seitz said in the release.

“There has never been a horse that has done what he has done for however many years, back to Secretariat. You just have to pay up and get involved, and this is kind of what he’s thinking.”