The victory was the first in a stakes race for the Storm Cat offspring owned and bred by Martin and Pam Wygod, and it was her first in the care of trainer John Shirreffs, whose Zenyatta launched a seven-race winning streak in last year’s El Encino that led to Horse of the Year candidacy.
After rallying Life Is Sweet from ninth in the field of ten, jockey Garrett Gomez said, “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.”
Country Star, a multiple Grade I stakes winner at the age of 2, had taken command at the head of the stretch before Life Is Sweet swooped past on the far outside. The favorite, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, held second by three lengths over Miss Singhsix.
The winner paid $9.40, $4.40 and $3.20. The prices on Country Star were $3.20 and $2.60, Miss Singhsix paid $3.20 to show.
The upset, combined with four double-digit winners in the Pick Six sequence, led to a Pick Six carryover of $141,431 into Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday card. It was the ninth Pick Six carryover through 19 days of the current Santa Anita meeting.
Before joining Shirreffs stable, Life Is Sweet had raced exclusively in the East while trained by Bill Mott. Her 2-2-0 record in seven starts had included maiden and allowance race victories. The Kentucky-bred bay had last raced in May when second to Raw Silk in a Grade II turf event, the Sands Point at Belmont Park.
The sparkling El Encino victory was her second over a synthetic surface after having finished fourth in Keeneland’s Grade I Ashland Stakes last April when, incidentally, she had wound up 2 ½ lengths ahead of fifth-place Country Star.
Life Is Sweet’s reward for her first stakes victory was $90,000, which increased her career earnings to $240,810.
Shirreffs remembered her joining his operation in September. “She’s such a nice filly, she really came around well,” the trainer said after his fourth victory in the El Encino dating to 1998.
“Marty (Wygod) wanted to try her out here,” continued Shirreffs, “so he brought her out. Santa Anita has such a nice program for 4-year-old fillies. The (Grade II, $200,000) La Canada Stakes would be next for her.”
Santa Anita concludes an extended weekend of racing with Monday’s holiday program featuring the Grade II, $150,000 San Marcos Stakes at 1 ¼ miles on grass. First post for the nine-race card is 12:30 p.m. The Pick Six sequence begins with the fourth race. The track will be dark on Tuesday and Wednesday.
EL ENCINO STAKES QUOTES
GARRETT GOMEZ, LIFE IS SWEET, WINNER: “I was back a little further than I wanted to be going to the first turn. Nakatani (Corey, aboard Christmas Ship) came over on me a little quick and I got shuffled back. 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.”
JOHN SHIRREFFS, LIFE IS SWEET, WINNER: “I think we got her a little after Pomona (the Fairplex Park meet ended last September), I’m not sure. She just had regular training. She’s such a nice filly, she just really came around well. Marty (owner 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 series; La Brea, El Encino, La Canada Stakes, Grade II, $200,000, 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 15). The La Caňada would be next (if she’s OK). I just told Garrett (Gomez) ‘to run your race.’”
NOTES: The winning owners/breeders are Marty and Pam Wygod of Rancho Santa Fe.