Life Is Sweet is expected to make her first appearance since her rousing victory in the $2-million Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) last fall. She is entered against eight rivals in the $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita Feb. 13.
The Santa Maria, reduced in level from a grade I this year by the American Grades Stakes Committee, is one of four graded events on the Santa Anita program and will go as the eighth race with a probable post of 4:07 p.m. (PST).
Life Is Sweet, who will have regular rider Garrett Gomez in the irons for the 1 1/16-mile test, was nearly invincible on the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita last year, winning four of five starts. The 5-year-old daughter of Storm Cat captured the Santa Margarita (gr. I) as well as a pair of grade II efforts in addition to her spectacular Breeders' Cup win Nov. 6. She rallied from 17 lengths off the pace after a half-mile that day to triumph by 2 1/2 lengths as an 8-1 underdog.
“She’s training very well and she’s done very well at Santa Anita,” trainer John Shirreffs said. Life Is Sweet was to have made her 2010 debut in the San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. II) Jan. 2 but was a race-day scratch after she "tied up a little" that morning, according to Shirreffs.
Sporting a 6-3-1 lifetime mark in 15 starts with earnings of $1,770,810, the Pam and Martin Wygod homebred's only loss at Santa Anita came in a fourth-place effort behind stablemate Zenyatta in Oak Tree's Lady's Secret Stakes (gr. I) prior to the Breeders' Cup. She was defeated by Zenyatta, who was named champion older filly or mare in 2009, a total of three times.
Life Is Sweet carries top weight of 123 pounds and will break from post 8. She breezed five furlongs at Hollywood Park Feb. 8 in 1:01.60.
Among the rivals she will face is Ladies' Classic runner-up Mushka, trained by Bill Mott for Brushwood Stable. A daughter of Empire Maker , Mushka, like Life Is Sweet, made a big wide move in the homestretch but was second best, getting up late to edge Music Note for second.
“It was a good effort,” Mott said of Mushka’s Breeders' Cup try, which followed a win by disqualification in Keeneland's Spinster Stakes (gr. I) a month earlier. “My filly seems to be doing well.”
Kent Desormeaux has the mount on Mushka, a 5-year-old mare with career earnings of $1,083,625 while winning six of 17 races. Mushka, who has been training in Florida, was assigned 118 pounds.
Life Is Sweet will be facing a stablemate in the Santa Maria again, though it won't be Zenyatta this time. Instead, she will share the starting gate with Arnold Zetcher's Brazilian-bred Zardana, who captured the Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) for Shirreffs in an 11-1 upset in her most recent start Dec. 5 at Hollywood Park. The multiple stakes-winning 6-year-old mare has won seven of 17 starts while earning $293,421. She will have Victor Espinoza aboard once again.
Pretty Unusual, 29-1 winner of the El Encino Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 17, gets back on the synthetic main track following a solid third-place finish in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita two weeks ago for trainer Barry Abrams. This will be the fourth start in six weeks for the 4-year-old daughter of Unusual Heat.
The Santa Maria will be the acid test for the Great Britain-bred St Trinians, who has won her three United States races by a combined margin of 14 3/4 lengths. The 5-year-old mare, a three-time winner on synthetic tracks in her native England, makes her group or graded stakes debut for trainer Mike Mitchell. She scored by 3 3/4 lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Paseana Handicap in her most recent try Jan. 9.
$250,000 Santa Maria Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), F&M 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Synthetic)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. My Baby Baby (KY), A O Solis, 114, K G McPeek
2. Pretty Unusual (CA), P Atkinson, 117, B Abrams
3. St Trinians (GB), J Rosario, 116, M R Mitchell
4. Mushka (KY), K J Desormeaux, 118, W I Mott
5. Zardana (BRZ), V Espinoza, 117, J A Shirreffs
6. Once Upon A Grace (IRE), J Talamo, 111, B D Cecil
7. Czechers (KY), C Sutherland, 113, M Glatt
8. Life Is Sweet (KY), G K Gomez, 123, J A Shirreffs
9. Spring Style (IRE), L Medina, 114, B D Cecil