03/16/2009 12:00AM

Life Is Sweet may move back to turf


ARCADIA, Calif. - Life Is Sweet, unbeaten in three major stakes this year, may have a spring campaign that features a turf race, trainer John Shirreffs said Sunday.

Life Is Sweet won the most prestigious race of her career in Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap on the main track at Santa Anita. Earlier this winter, she won two Grade 2 stakes - the El Encino and La Canada.

With a background of racing on turf last year and the presence of champion stablemate Zenyatta in the Shirreffs barn, turf racing is a strong option. One possibility is the $250,000 Gamely Stakes, a Grade 1 at 1 1/8 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on May 30.

"We'd have to wait a week to make up our mind on that," Shirreffs said. "One thing we know is she likes the turf."

Shirreffs said he would consult with owners Marty and Pam Wygod before making plans for Life Is Sweet, 4.

Last year, when trained by Bill Mott, Life Is Sweet won an allowance race on turf and placed in two stakes - the Calder Oaks and the Grade 2 Sands Point Stakes.

Mott "put in the foundation work," Shirreffs said. "I get her after a break. How fortunate am I?"

Shirreffs said that one thing is for certain - Life Is Sweet and stablemate Zenyatta will not meet in the near future. Unbeaten in nine starts and the champion older female of 2008, Zenyatta recently resumed workouts for an expected return in the spring.

"We're looking for a race to bring Zenyatta back," Shirreffs said. "We wouldn't want to run against Life Is Sweet right off the bat."

Baffert happy with 'Pioneer'

Pioneerof the Nile won his third consecutive graded stakes in Saturday's $200,000 San Felipe. But what he lacks among his wins is an emphatic victory. Instead, Pioneerof the Nile won the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity by a nose in December, the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes in February by a half-length, and the San Felipe by 1 1/4 lengths over Feisty Suances.

"That's the most he's won by since he broke his maiden," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He's won three graded stakes in a row. It takes a good horse to do that."

Pioneerof the Nile will return in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4, for a showdown with two-times stakes winner The Pamplemousse. This year, The Pamplemousse has won the San Rafael Stakes by two lengths and the Sham Stakes by six lengths, leading throughout in both.

The Pamplemousse will be Pioneerof the Nile's target in the Santa Anita Derby.

"What better target than that," Baffert said. Pioneerof the Nile is "not like Friesan Fire or The Pamplemousse that lay their bodies down each time. That's why I've been able to run him more often."

Gomez nears meet stakes record

Jockey Garrett Gomez rode Life Is Sweet and Pioneerof the Nile to move within two victories of tying the single-season mark for stakes wins at a winter-spring meeting.

Through Sunday, Gomez had 17 stakes wins, two behind the record of 19 shared by Laffit Pincay Jr. (1982-83) and Corey Nakatani (1996-97).

Because of travel commitments for out-of-town stakes over the next few weekends and a move to Keeneland for the majority of April, Gomez may not have sufficient opportunities to break the record.

He is not riding at Santa Anita on Saturday or the weekend of March 28-29. Gomez will ride the Santa Anita Derby program on April 4 and on Easter, April 12, but will miss the rest of the weekends through the end of the meeting on April 19 to ride at Keeneland.

Gomez has one excellent chance for a stakes win on Sunday, with Visit in the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap.

Trained by Bobby Frankel, Visit, 4, has had mixed results in California in the last six months. She was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last October and third in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes last November.

In her only start this year and first start on a synthetic track, Visit finished sixth as the 3-2 favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap on Feb. 14. The Grade 2 Santa Ana is run at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Nakatani switches agents

Nakatani, who has won two riding titles at this meeting in the past but has had a limited impact at this meeting, has switched agents.

Vince DeGregory has been replaced by Bob Meldahl, with whom Nakatani ended a 13-year partnership in 2004.

Through Sunday, Nakatani was 14th in the standings, with 11 wins. He won riding titles at the winter-spring meeting in 1995-96 and 1999-2000, but has not finished in the first five at this meeting since a fourth-place finish in 2003-04.

Natakani admitted that he is battling his weight; he is currently riding at 118 pounds. He said he hopes to be riding at a lower weight in the future, with the help of a nutritionist and personal trainer.

"Hopefully, I'll get a chance to get back on the horses that I feel like I need to be on," he said.

Meldahl will continue to represent Isaias Enriquez.

Union Avenue with Hollendorfer

Union Avenue, winner of the Grade 2 American Derby at Arlington Park in 2006, has joined trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's stable. Owned by William deBurgh, Union Avenue was trained by Graham Motion in the Mid-Atlantic last year.

Last Friday at Santa Anita, Union Avenue worked six furlongs in 1:11, the fastest of 16 recorded works at the distance.

Hollywood raising admission prices

A day at the races at Hollywood Park will cost a little more this year.

According to documents filed with the California Horse Racing Board, Hollywood Park intends to raise its general admission price from $7 to $8. The price will still include general parking and a program. General admission for seniors on Wednesdays will increase from $4 to $5.

Some parking rates will be higher. Preferred parking will be $5, an increase of $2, while valet parking will rise from $8 to $10.

The increases were part of the track's application for the spring-summer meeting, which runs from April 22 to July 19. The application must be approved by the racing board at its monthly meeting Thursday at Golden Gate Fields.