05/22/2009 11:00PM

Milady looking like match race

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Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta, unbeaten and coming off a championship year, will face barnmate Life Is Sweet, winner of three big Santa Anita stakes.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Usually, either Zenyatta or Life Is Sweet would be a standout selection in a race such as Saturday's $150,000 Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park. With both of them starting, trainer John Shirreffs has a nearly unbeatable team.

The problem for bettors is choosing between the two.

Zenyatta, unbeaten in nine starts, was the champion older female of 2008 and is making her first start since an emphatic win in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita last October.

Life Is Sweet enhanced her reputation as the nation's most-accomplished 4-year-old filly with three major stakes wins during the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting earlier this year.

Add similar running styles as closers, and many race-watchers will be focusing on the action at the back of the field through the first half of the Grade 2 Milady. As the race unfolds, it is easy to envision the pair several lengths off the pace on the backstretch, moving closer to the front-runners entering the turn, being just behind the leaders in early stretch, and then . . .

That is when Shirreffs declines to make a prediction.

"I'm not paid to figure it out," Shirreffs said with a smile.

Shirreffs acknowledges that Zenyatta's experience is a significant advantage, but Life Is Sweet's turn of foot could put her in position earlier than Zenyatta. Conversely, Zenyatta is a mare with an extended rally that can wear down even the best of rivals. She was last of eight on the turn in the BC Ladies' Classic and won by 1 1/2 lengths under a hand-ride from jockey Mike Smith, who retains the mount on Saturday.

"Maybe Life Is Sweet will be quicker to accelerate," Shirreffs said. "Zenyatta just lengthens her stride and lowers her head. She just keeps coming. They have different styles of acceleration. They are coming into the race as well as you could hope."

Zenyatta and Life Is Sweet are part of a field of nine fillies and mares in the Milady, which is run over 1 1/16 miles. The race is not expected to have that many starters. Trainer Barry Abrams said on Thursday that his two entrants - Bel Air Sizzle and Hot n' Dusty - will be withdrawn.

Zenyatta, a 5-year-old mare by Street Cry owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, will be after her 10th victory. Last year, she was unbeaten in seven starts, including four Grade 1 races.

Life Is Sweet, a 4-year-old filly by Storm Cat owned by Marty and Pam Wygod, is unbeaten in three starts since joining Shirreffs's team last winter. At Santa Anita earlier this year, she won the two Grade 2 stakes for 4-year-old fillies - the El Encino and La Canada Stakes - and the meeting's championship race for older females, the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap on March 14.

In the Santa Margarita over 1 1/8 miles, Life Is Sweet launched a remarkable rally through the final three furlongs that carried her from last to first before the sixteenth pole. She won by a comfortable 2 1/2 lengths under Garrett Gomez, who has the mount on Saturday.

The Santa Margarita was a career-defining performance for Life Is Sweet, who would surpass that accomplishment if she wins on Saturday.

"Life Is Sweet has to move up to the next level," Shirreffs said. "Zenyatta has done that. She has the experience of last year behind her, the seasoning and the campaign."

There should be an honest pace for Life Is Sweet and Zenyatta to pursue. The minor stakes winners Champagne Eyes and Gambler's Justice are likely to contribute to the pace. Dawn After Dawn is seeking her first graded stakes win since the 2008 La Canada Stakes. Taste's Sis is an outsider, while Allicansayis Wow is making her U.S. stakes debut.

Trained by Patrick Biancone, Allicansayis Wow won an allowance race on April 23 after nearly falling in the stretch when she clipped heels. She earned Shirreffs's respect that day.

"Biancone's filly ran pretty well after she stumbled," Shirreffs said.

None of those fillies and mares is as accomplished as Zenyatta or Life Is Sweet, which Shirreffs knows gives him an advantage.

"Zenyatta and Life Is Sweet are Grade 1 winners," he said. "They've done it. There are a lot of horses that are going to have to move up."

:: Weekend Warrior: (DRF Plus)