Favored Life Is Sweet hardly had an ideal set-up in the $200,000 La Canada Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) , racing at the back of the pack behind extremely slow fractions. But the full sister to champion 2-year-old filly Sweet Catomine refused to be denied, swinging to the outside under Garrett Gomez in the homestretch to overtake Magical Fantasy in the dramatic final strides at Santa Anita Feb. 15.
Pam and Martin Wygod's homebred filly made it back-to-back grade II wins on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride racing surface since being transferred to the Southern California stable of John Shirreffs. Sent off at odds of 6-5, she carried high weight of 123 pounds while tallying by three-quarters of a length in the La Canada, a 1 1/8-mile event for 4-year-old fillies. The winning time of 1:49.70 was four seconds off the track mark. Life Is Sweet ran the final eighth of a mile, though, in a sizzling :11.20.
In her first start since last spring, Life Is Sweet scored a powerful 2 1/2-length win in the 1 1/16-mile El Encino Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 18, coming from well off the pace to do so. The daughter of Storm Cat--Sweet Life, by Kris S., had plenty of pace to run at that day, but that wasn't the case in the La Canada.
Life Is Sweet, breaking from the outside, fell out to last of the nine-horse field heading into the clubhouse turn as second choice Bsharpsonata, leaving from the rail, loped to the front under Rafael Bejarano. Quarter-mile fractions for the opening six furlongs -- :24.76, :50.03, and 1:14.29 -- kept the field in close order going into the far turn with Bsharpsonata continuing to show the way while stalked by Ginger Pop, Magical Fantasy, and Modification. Straightening for the stretch, Bsharpsonata seemed to have plenty left in the tank while Life Is Sweet, with two beaten at that point, was roused by Gomez.
Life Is Sweet responded when angled out, closing gamely while four wide as Bsharpsonata and Magical Fantasy, ridden by Alex Solis, dueled for the lead. Magical Fantasy gained a slight advantage near the sixteenth pole, but Life Is Sweet, under strong urging, continued to charge and proved best at the wire.
Gomez said he knew the pace would be slow, but he was told by Shirreffs and Wygod to "just let her run like she did last time."
"As we went down the backside, I just tried to inch up a little closer, and at the three eighths pole we were closer, but I didn’t know if she could quicken enough to catch those other fillies," he added. "She really showed a great turn of foot and to be able to overcome that slow pace like she did is amazing. You can see her stride gets longer as she gets closer to the wire.”
In a narrow decision, Magical Fantasy, winner of the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) on the turf last summer, took the runner-up spot by a neck over a determined Bsharpsonata, with Modification just a nose farther back in fourth. Spring Style, Ginger Pop, Miss Singhsix, Accopela Choir, and Taste's Sis trailed.
"I knew they'd be coming, but I was very happy the last 100 yards because (Magical Fantasy) had passed (Bsharpsonata)," Solis said of the runner-up's effort. "Then I looked over at 50 yards (from the wire), and there she (Life Is Sweet) was."
Shirreffs said he was concerned about the first half-mile, but thought Life Is Sweet could get there anyway.
“You know, once she got going, it looked like she had a chance, yeah,” he said.
He said that he and the Wygods would discuss the bay filly's next start.
Life Is Sweet began her career as a 2-year-old in New York with trainer Bill Mott, winning twice in seven starts in 2007-08, culminated by a runner-up finish in the Sands Point (gr. IIT) over Belmont Park's inner turf course May 31. She went home to the Wygods' River Edge Farm near Buellton, Calif., for an extended rest before resuming her career with Shirreffs at Hollywood Park.
The victory, worth $120,000, was the fourth in nine starts for the lightly-raced Life Is Sweet. She has banked $360,810 in her career, with $210,000 of that total coming in her two California efforts.
Life is Sweet paid $4.40, $3, and $2.40. Magical Fantasy, off the turf for the first time in seven United States starts for trainer Paddy Gallagher, returned $4.20 and $2.80 while completing a $2 exacta worth $21.60. Bsharpsonata, in her first start of 2009 for trainer Todd Pletcher, came up just short while paying $2.40 for the show.