03/13/2009 12:00AM

Hard to look beyond Life Is Sweet

Email

ARCADIA, Calif. - Life Is Sweet went from appearing to be hopelessly beaten to remarkably winning the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita last month.

She chased a slow pace to the top of the stretch and closed from seventh with a devastating kick to lead in the final strides. The victory was arguably the most impressive stakes win of the first half of the winter-spring meeting. As a result, Life Is Sweet will be a strong favorite to win her third consecutive race in Saturday's $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational.

Trainer John Shirreffs is hoping that Life Is Sweet will not have to work as hard to win the Grade 1 Santa Margarita, which is run over 1 1/8 miles on the Pro-Ride main track and drew a field of seven.

"The kick at the end is really surprising," he said. "She puts in a fast three-sixteenths and that's something that really distinguishes horses."

Owned by Pam and Marty Wygod, Life Is Sweet is unbeaten in two starts this year. She won the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes here on Jan. 18 in her 2009 debut, closing from ninth in a field of 10 to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

Shirreffs said he has seen further improvement in recent weeks.

"I think being in a series of races has helped her to develop a little differently," Shirreffs said. "She's more settled."

Life Is Sweet, 4, carries top weight of 120 pounds. In the La Canada, the pacesetter ran the first six furlongs in 1:14.29. In the Santa Margarita, the presence of Forest Melody, who has yet to win a stakes, should ensure a faster pace.

"It would be nice if there is more speed," Shirreffs said.

A decent pace will give Santa Teresita an early target. The upset winner of the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap over 1 1/16 miles Feb. 14, Santa Teresita is the biggest threat to Life Is Sweet.

Magical Fantasy, second to Life Is Sweet in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes, will be a factor. She is winless in three starts since the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks last August. Bel Air Sizzle, Model, and Modification are the other starters. Model was second to Santa Teresita in the Santa Maria, and is a threat from off the pace.

Santa Teresita, trained by Eric Guillot, will not be far from Forest Melody. In the Santa Maria, Santa Teresita was second to early stretch before taking the lead.

"It looks like it sets up like the last race," Guillot said of the Santa Margarita. "The only thing that could be better is if there were more horses for Life Is Sweet, so she goes wide or gets beat."

Santa Teresita has a history of bleeding from the lungs, but Guillot said she is approaching the Santa Margarita in excellent form. As evidence, he cites a half-mile workout in 47.20 seconds at Hollywood Park on Monday.

"This mare breezed on Monday," she said. "The extra sixteenth shouldn't be an issue."