Marty and Pam Wygod’s homebred Life Is Sweet returned from a more than seven-month layoff to become a graded stakes winner in her 4-year-old debut, coming from off the pace to take the $150,000 El Encino Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) by 2 1/2 lengths Jan. 18 on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface.
With Garrett Gomez in the irons, Life Is Sweet was next to last down the backstretch, made her winning move while fanning four-wide around the final turn, and charged right by 6-5 favorite Country Star at the top of the lane to draw away for a convincing score.
Life Is Sweet, the 7-2 second choice in a field of 10 4-year-old fillies, stopped the clocked in 1:41.30 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track.
Country Star, a two-time grade I winner, settled for second under Rafael Bejarano, three lengths in front of third-place Miss Singhsix. Ginger Pop was fourth.
“I was back a little further than I wanted to be going to the first turn,” Gomez said. “Down the backside, my filly was off the bridle, nice and relaxed. At the half-mile pole, I was looking for someone to follow, but it seemed like no one was moving forward.
“Going to the three-eighths, I decided to follow Valdivia (Jose, aboard Ginger Pop) and he was about five or six lengths in front of me. By the eighth-pole, she had inhaled the whole field and she stayed on her left lead, so she’s still learning. It’s nice to know there’s more left in the tank.”
Czechers outhustled Love to Siphon to the first turn and set the pace while posting fractions of :23.16, :46.47 and 1:10.52. Love to Siphon chased the leader, as did Country Star, who was third and in perfect stalking position. The Empire Maker filly made a big move around the final turn, took over approaching the quarter-pole and seemed primed for a winning stretch run.
But Life Is Sweet had already begun her assault on the front and easily flew by Country Star in upper stretch. The daughter of Storm Cat cruised to the wire for a comfortable win.
“She’s such a nice filly, she just really came around well,” said winning trainer John Shirreffs, who also won the event last year with Zenyatta. Previously trained by Bill Mott, Shirreffs saddled Life Is Sweet for the first time . “Marty (Wygod) wanted to try her out here, so he brought her out (from the East Coast). Santa Anita has such a nice program for 4-year-old fillies. The La Canada (gr. II, Feb. 15) would be next."
Bred in Kentucky out of the Kris S. mare Sweet Life, Life Is Sweet improved to 3-2-0 from eight starts. She has earned $240,810.
Entering the El Encino, Life Is Sweet was runner-up to Raw Silk in the May 31 Sands Point Stakes (gr. IIT) at Belmont. Her lone win in four starts as a 3-year-old came in allowance company on the turf in February at Gulfstream Park. A fourth-place finish in the April 5 Ashland (gr. I) on the Keeneland Polytrack was the bay filly’s only other start on a synthetic surface.
The winner paid $9.40, $4.40, and $3.20. The exacta returned $24.60, while the $1 trifecta netted $50.80.
Accopela Choir was fifth, followed by Step Softly, Christmas Ship, Magger Bags, Czechers, and Love to Siphon. Lethal Heat and Foxy Danseur were scratched.