Even-money choice Life Is Sweet became a grade I winner when she circled the field leaving the turn for home and mowed down the leaders through the lane to win the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) by 2 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita March 14.
Pam and Martin Wygod's 4-year-old homebred daughter of Storm Cat--Sweet Life (by Kris S.) collected her third consecutive graded stakes win at the meet, completing the 1 1/8-mile journey in 1:48.71 over the Pro-Ride racing surface.
Last into the far turn, Life Is Sweet was forced to alter course slightly in upper stretch behind the drifting Model but was more than capable of making up for the spot of trouble by shifting to the outside and resuming her charge. She won going away under moderate urging from Gomez.
Santa Teresita, winner of the Santa Maria Handicap (gr. I) in her last start, ran second under Joe Talamo with Model and Joel Rosario third.
Forest Melody set a lively pace -- :23.78, :47.57 and 1:11.86 -- before coming under pressure from Santa Teresita, who took over near the quarter pole with Model and Magical Fantasy in hot pursuit. Life Is Sweet, advancing off the rail from the rear of the compact pack, swung four wide into the lane and soon challenged the leaders. She was forced extra wide when Model drifted out but it had no lasting effect on the outcome.
"Going to the three eighths pole, they were spread three wide in front of me and everybody was looking back for me," Gomez said. "She was just galloping along within herself and I was confident she’d be able to quicken when I asked her. When we turned for home, Rosario (aboard Model) made a right-hand turn in front of us, so we had to deal with that, but it didn’t matter. She’s just a beautiful specimen.”
Life Is Sweet has become unbeatable since shifting to the barn of John Shirreffs on the West Coast this season. She came into her first start against mares off grade II wins in the El Encino and La Canada stakes in her two most recent tries. The victory was the fifth in 10 lifetime starts for the bay filly. She earned $180,000 to boost her career bankroll to $540,810.
“She’s been running well here," Shirreffs said. "We’ll have to discuss (the next race) with Marty (Wygod), but I don’t see anything (more at Santa Anita). He’s the boss."
Wygod, asked if she might meet undefeated champion stablemate Zenyatta, responded, “Who knows?”
She carried top weight of 120 pounds and paid $4, $2.60 and $2.10. Santa Teresita returned $3.20 and $2.40. Model was $2.20 to show.
Magical Fantasy finished fourth, followed by Modification and Forest Melody.
The Santa Margarita is the 17th stakes win this meet for Gomez. He needs two more to tie the Santa Anita meet mark of 19 stakes wins shared by Laffit Pincay Jr. (1982-83) and Corey Nakatani (1996-97).