02/11/2010 12:00AM

Could be Life Is Sweet's year to emerge a star


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The enthusiastic visitors, racing insiders, and fans who gain their way into trainer John Shirreffs's stable at Hollywood Park arrive with a singular purpose - to see undefeated two-time champion Zenyatta.

They will snap numerous photos and offer copious compliments before Shirreffs sometimes hits them with a surprise.

"And in this stall over here is Life Is Sweet," he'll say.

Oh, yeah, Life Is Sweet. You remember her, don't you? She won four stakes in 2009, one of which just happened to be the at Santa Anita on Nov. 6. The only problem is, a day later, Zenyatta romped home against males to set off a two-month blabfest about whether she or eventual winner Rachel Alexandra should be Horse of the Year.

Life Is Sweet's finest hour had been overshadowed by her brilliant stablemate, an ongoing event for the Shirreffs team in 2009. No wonder she is not the focus of the stable tour.

"Nobody specifically comes to see her," Shirreffs said.

Life Is Sweet may force people to take notice in the next few months.

This winter and spring, Life Is Sweet and Zenyatta are on different schedules. Life Is Sweet will make her 2009 debut in Saturday's $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap. Zenyatta is being pointed for the $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap on March 13 and the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 3.

By then, Life Is Sweet may have been to the other side of the world and back, attempting to become the first female to win the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse on March 27.

The plans are not firm yet, but owner Marty Wygod is thinking ambitiously.

"We are considering running in Dubai," he said. "We want to see how she runs in the Santa Maria."

For the last 13 months, since she began racing for Shirreffs after starting her career with Bill Mott in 2007, Life Is Sweet has built a reputation as a top-class mare, one particularly fond of California's synthetic racetracks. Her 2009 campaign of four wins in eight starts and earnings of $1,620,000 was good enough to make her a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding older female. Of course, Zenyatta won that trophy, but Life Is Sweet had the sort of campaign that deserved championship recognition.

Life Is Sweet won her first three starts in 2009 - the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes, Grade 2 La Canada Stakes, and Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap - lost her next four starts, and then won the BC Ladies' Classic.

Three of the losses were to Zenyatta; the other was a game third against males in the over 1 1/4 miles last July, when she closed from 12th in a field of 13 to finish 7 3/4 lengths behind Rail Trip. That day, it was best to be near the front at Hollywood Park, which made Life Is Sweet's third all the more respectable.

But the three losses to Zenyatta a second in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap in May, and fourth-place finishes in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Handicap in August and Grade 1 Lady's Secret at Santa Anita in October left Life Is Sweet an 8-1 outsider in the BC Ladies' Classic.

What bettors did not see was a turnaround in Life Is Sweet's enthusiasm toward training in the fall. Shirreffs said Life Is Sweet was unhappy on Del Mar's Polytrack surface and that she does better when training on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track and racing on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride.

"In the Lady's Secret, I could see her starting to come around," Shirreffs said. "She was starting to work well again after Del Mar in the mornings. You could see her doing it on her own. After the Lady's Secret she was really training brilliantly."

In the BC Ladies' Classic, Life Is Sweet rallied from last of eight fillies and mares with a five-wide move to take the lead in the final furlong. She won by 2 1/2 lengths.

"I was amazed the way she beat them, the way she opened up," Shirreffs said. "For me, it was the best race she's run. Everyone around the country was coming in. Everyone is keyed up for the Breeders' Cup. She did it in the race everyone was pointing for specifically."

For Wygod and his wife, Pam, who live in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Life Is Sweet has been their finest older female. They also campaigned Sweet Catomine, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2004, but she did not race past April of her 3-year-old season.

Campaigns such as Life Is Sweet's in 2009 represent the pinnacle of their involvement in racing.

"I thought the La Canada was her most impressive race," Wygod said. "That was the one when she had that unbelievable move in the last quarter-mile. In the Breeders' Cup, she went very wide, and she beat them so easily. The last sixteenth, Garrett [Gomez] just sat on her."

Shirreffs said Life Is Sweet is ready to build on her 2009 campaign. This year, the program could include races on turf, a surface over which she excelled when trained by Mott. That would keep her away from Zenyatta, a main-track specialist.

Shirreffs and Wygod have discussed whether Life Is Sweet could beat Zenyatta, who races for Jerry and Ann Moss.

"When I discussed this with Marty, I said, 'Zenyatta is Zenyatta,' " Shirreffs said. "It would be very difficult."

For now, Zenyatta gets the attention from barn visitors. Life Is Sweet is relegated to being a warm-up act - at least for the moment. This spring, she could take a crack at her own piece of racing history on the other side of the world. That would get her plenty of attention.