01/02/2010 12:00AM

Life Is Sweet back on turf

Barbara D. Livingston
Life Is Sweet, with exercise rider Isabelle Bournez up, gallops at Hollywood Park on Dec. 15 in preparation for her return to the races in Saturday's Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Just eight weeks after the finest win of her career in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, Life Is Sweet will be asked to do something completely different in Saturday's $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap at Santa Anita: win on turf.

In 2009, Life Is Sweet was the second best older female in the nation, behind undefeated stablemate Zenyatta, a candidate for Horse of the Year. All Life Is Sweet has to show for her eight-race campaign last year is four stakes wins (two in Grade 1 races) and $1,620,000 in earnings for owners Marty and Pam Wygod and trainer John Shirreffs.

Life Is Sweet accomplished all of that racing on California's synthetic main tracks. The Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap will be her first start on turf since a second in the Grade 2 Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park in May 2008 when trained by Bill Mott. Life Is Sweet's last win on turf occurred in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park in February 2008.

The shift in surfaces does not concern Shirreffs. The race distance of 1 1/8 miles should be an ideal fit for Life Is Sweet, who will be ridden by regular jockey Garrett Gomez.

"She's been doing her same old routine," Shirreffs said. "She's run well on the turf. I don't expect to see anything different."

The San Gorgonio is the feature race on a nine-race program that includes the $60,000 Impressive Luck Handicap for turf sprinters. First post is 12:30 p.m. Pacific.

The San Gorgonio drew a field of nine, including the two-time Grade 1 winner Diamondrella. Life Is Sweet, 5, is expected to drop out the back, customary to her style, and make a sustained run through the final half-mile. Aside from in the BC Ladies' Classic, the style of racing worked in 2009 in the El Encino Stakes, La Canada Stakes, and Santa Margarita Handicap, and to a lesser extent when she was third against males in the Hollywood Gold Cup in July.

"She'll come from off the pace and you hope she's pulling the rider," Shirreffs said.

Shirreffs said the surface switch is not an indication that Life Is Sweet will stay on turf. Later at the Santa Anita meeting, she will be pointed to two $250,000 races on the main track - the Grade 2 Santa Maria Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 13 and the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on March 13. After all, she ran the race of her career on the Pro-Ride surface in the BC Ladies' Classic.

"She ran so good that day," Shirreffs said. "We saw glimpses out of it last winter and she put it all together."

Diamondrella won two Grade 1 mile turf races for fillies and mares last year: the Just a Game at Belmont and the First Lady at Keeneland. She shares top weight of 122 pounds with Life Is Sweet.

Trained by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, Diamondrella was third in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 28 in her first start for Stevens. In that race over a mile, Diamondrella, 6, closed well under jockey Alex Solis to finish 2 1/4 lengths behind Ventura.

The San Gorgonio will be the longest race of Diamondrella's career, but Stevens does not see that as a problem.

"Alex said with the turf and the way she ran in the Matriarch, the mile and an eighth is within her scope," Stevens said. "She acts like more of a mile and an eighth horse than a sprinter."

The San Gorgonio field has seven stakes winners. The 2008 French stakes winner Treat Gently makes her first start for Mott. She made two starts in 2009 for Bobby Frankel, who died in November.

Century Park, winner of the California Cup Distance Handicap on turf in October, may lead, while Cat by the Tale, third in the Grade 2 Las Palmas Handicap on turf in November, is a threat from off the pace.

Czechers, expected to be a factor on the pace, also was entered for Sunday's $100,000 Monrovia Handicap.