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Multiple Grade 1-winner Life Is Good will take on Godolphin's Grade 1-winning homebred Speaker's Corner in Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 John A. Nerud, a seven-furlong sprint for older horses at Belmont Park.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Life Is Good, a 4-year-old Into Mischief bay, won 4-of-5 starts last year led by scores in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap in September at Belmont ahead of a 5 3/4-length win in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in November at Del Mar.
Life Is Good launched his current campaign with a gate-to-wire 3 1/4-length victory over 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January at Gulfstream Park. He finished fourth last out in the 10-furlong Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 26 at Meydan.
Pletcher said Life Is Good didn't appreciate the slow Meydan surface.
Race 4 at Belmont Park on Saturday, July 2 - Post 2:34 PM
"It was the wrong racetrack for him," Pletcher said. "We were a little concerned about that going in. I thought they would have it a little tighter on that night, but it didn't play to his style at all."
Life Is Good has breezed five times over the Belmont dirt training track since returning to Pletcher's care in New York, including a half-mile effort in 49.49 seconds Saturday.
Pletcher, who won this event last year with Mind Control, said the talented colt will use the Nerud as a springboard to the nine-furlong Grade 1, $1 million Whitney on August 6 at Saratoga Race Course, which offers a "Win and You're In" berth to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Keeneland.
"We would like to have a prep before the Whitney and this seemed like the logical place," Pletcher said.
Flavien Prat, who guided Flightline to victory over Speaker's Corner in the Grade 1 Hill `n' Dale Metropolitan Handicap on June 11 here, will take over from the suspended Irad Ortiz, Jr.
"Flavien has proven he rides really well in any occasion," Pletcher said. "There might be some similarities to Flightline and Life Is Good, but we'll have a talk about the horse a little bit. He's got kind of a quiet touch, so that should suit him well."
Life Is Good will emerge from the inside post carrying 124 pounds.
Speaker's Corner, a 4-year-old Street Sense colt, has won 3-of-4 starts this year, including scores traveling one-mile at Gulfstream Park in the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper in January and the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile in March. His impressive 4 1/2-length win in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Carter Handicap in April at Aqueduct Racetrack garnered a 114 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest number recorded this year.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and piloted last out by Junior Alvarado, the talented bay set splits of 22.78 and 45.01 in the Grade 1 Met Mile but could not turn back the streaking Flightline, who drew off to a six-length score over Happy Saver with Speaker's Corner a further 2 3/4-lengths back in third.
Speaker's Corner breezed five-eighths in a bullet 59.60 Saturday over Big Sandy in his first breeze back. With Alvarado committed to riding Olympiad for Mott in Saturday's Grade 2 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, Speaker's Corner will be piloted by Jose Ortiz from post 5 touting 124 pounds.
Ortiz has ridden Speaker's Corner on two previous occasions, including a 5 1/4-length allowance win in August at Saratoga.
CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm's Harvard [post 3, Kendrick Carmouche, 118 pounds] will return from a two-month layoff for trainer Rodolphe Brisset.
The 4-year-old Pioneerof the Nile gelding has posted a pair of front-running scores, graduating at third asking last May at Indiana Grand followed by a nine-furlong allowance score one month later at Churchill. He was last seen finishing last-of-7 in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claimer on April 30 at Belmont.
Out of the New York-bred Cat Thief mare Sambuca Classica, Harvard is a full-brother to 2016 Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Classic Empire, who notched three Grade 1 scores and banked more than $2.5 million in purse earnings.
Harvard has trained at Keeneland for his return, including a bullet five-eighths breeze in 1:01 flat on June 19.
The multiple graded-stakes placed War Tocsin [post 4, Dexter Haddock, 118 pounds], owned and trained by Uriah St. Lewis, enters from a third-place finish at odds of 69-1 in the Grade 2 True North on June 10 at Belmont. The 6-year-old Violence bay has hit the board in three of his last four starts, including a second in the Grade 3 General George in February and a third in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint in May at Pimlico.
Rounding out the field is Double B Racing Stables' Repo Rocks [post 2, Javier Castellano, 118 pounds], who sports a record of 6-2-1-1 over Big Sandy led by a sharp allowance sprint score on April 28 that garnered a career-best 99 Beyer.
Trained by Gregory DiPrima, the 4-year-old Tapiture gelding placed in a pair of graded events at the Big A this winter, finishing second in the Grade 3 Toboggan in February and third in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap in March.
The John A. Nerud is slated as Race 4 on Saturday's 10-race card, which also features the Grade 3, $250,000 Dwyer in Race 8. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
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