09/16/2016 2:50PM

Hovdey: For Living The Life, Masters a race like no other

Coady Photography
Living The Life has won the last two runnings of the Presque Isle Masters.

Kelso won the Jockey Club Gold Cup five straight years, Forego won four consecutive runnings of the Woodward, and a host of good horses have dominated a particular event three years in a row, including Goldikova (the Breeders’ Cup Mile), Discovery (the Brooklyn and the Whitney), Native Diver (the Hollywood Gold Cup), and John Henry (the Oak Tree Invitational).

Now comes Living The Life, owned by software entrepreneur Hank Nothhaft, who on Monday will make her annual pilgrimage to the banks of Lake Erie for the $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters, a Grade 2 event for fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs on Tapeta. If she can handle stout competition like Birdatthewire, Elusive Collection, and Bar of Gold, Living The Life can lay claim to a high-class three-peat of her own.

In 2014, while making only her second start in the U.S., the Irish mare won the Masters by half a length over Disco Barbie in 1:15.26. Last year, Living The Life beat the favored Leigh Court by three-quarters of a length in 1:15.17.

In fact, the Masters is the only real constant in Living The Life’s world. She is a very talented square peg in the round hole of U.S. racing, which places older female synthetic-track sprinters well down on the food chain, unless their name is Groupie Doll or Judy the Beauty.

Since she joined the Gary Mandella stable in the spring of 2014 after handsome all-weather-track wins in England, Living The Life has run in 12 races other than the Masters, as varied as 6 1/2 furlongs down the Santa Anita hillside turf course to 1 1/8 miles on dirt.

She has won a Grade 3 race at a mile on Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields, finished second in the Grade 2 Great Lady M. at 6 1/2 furlongs on dirt, and was third in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita last winter at Santa Anita in a field of five. This is considered good management, especially when horses like Living The Life had the synthetic rug pulled out from under them in Southern California.

“Not too many days go by when I don’t think about how she’d run on synthetic at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint,” Mandella said. “So, we’ve had to be a little creative, and she’s been able to add some things on the dirt to her résumé, which was a nice surprise.”

Living The Life is 6, which makes her the same age as Beholder. They trained in proximity at Del Mar, where the younger Mandella shares space in one of the massive multipurpose “barns” with his Hall of Fame father, Richard.

“She’s really athletic, much more a ballerina to Beholder’s backyard bully,” Gary said. “She weighs like 300 pounds less than Beholder, but she’s just so nimble and light on her feet, and she has a heart of gold.”

Most owners and trainers would be tempted to pack Living The Life in bubble wrap right after the Masters each year and not risk missing the next one. This, Gary Mandella noted, would go contrary to the spirit of the exercise.

“You can’t just do nothing,” the trainer said. “You’ve got to take a few shots.”

To that end, they stretched her out earlier this year and even tried her against the boys on May 30 at Golden Gate in the All American, in which Living The Life ran the best race, by the numbers, of her U.S. career. There were high hopes for her subsequent start in the Southern Truce at Santa Anita, and the players agreed, making Living The Life the firm favorite at 1 1/16 miles on dirt. To everyone’s shock, she was eased home last of seven.

“She came out of that race with a big, nasty stone bruise,” Mandella said. “I just have to think she found a misplaced rock out there because it’s very unlike her to come up with something like that.”

Mandella was able to train the mare without interruption during Del Mar, where she turned in a couple of bullet works as if the bruise were ancient history. She has been at Presque Isle since Sept. 7, getting reacquainted with the surface … and the wildlife.

The races there had to be suspended briefly last summer because deer were encroaching on the track. By the time the 2015 Masters came around, order was restored, but the wildlife still lurked.

“Joe Bravo told me she saw them last year in the post parade, and she didn’t like them,” said Mandella, who has Flavien Prat aboard this time. “Joe wasn’t sure if she’d even break out of the gate.”

Higher perimeter fences have dealt with Bambi and his pals. This year, the challenge could come from the weather since rain is predicted through the weekend, clearing Monday.

“She might find a different version of the racetrack she’s been on the last two years,” the trainer said. “Although in California, when synthetic tracks got rain, they seemed to get better and have more bounce.”

Mandella has not been pricing local lakeside real estate in case Living The Life keeps coming back year after year after year. He was, however, more than halfway there on Friday morning, sticking his hand in the air at the Keeneland pavilion during the yearling sale.

“We got a very nice filly for $60,000,” Mandella said.

The next Living The Life?

“We can hope.”