02/15/2010 1:00AM

At that price, can't back Life Is Sweet

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Perhaps it was the pile of snow I continued to shovel on my driveway Thursday morning that had me thinking of sunny Southern California, which, finally, this weekend is supposed to live up to its reputation and actually be sunny.

No doubt, the five stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday also contributed to my California dreaming. There is no better racing in the country Saturday.

There is something for every horseplayer: stakes for 3-year-olds to 4-year-olds to older females. And it is in the latter group that I am most interested.

The Santa Maria Handicap, the eighth on the card, drew a top-quality field, led by Life Is Sweet and Mushka, the one-two finishers in , plus seven other runners.

Following a dominant score in the Ladies' Classic, Life Is Sweet is a deserving favorite. I'm just not convinced she deserves to be around even-money against such a classy group of older females.

Although brilliant in the Ladies' Classic, earning a 107 Beyer Speed Figure, she generally runs figures between 98 and 100 when she is on her game.

Those numbers are still quite good, but Mushka's three synthetic figures of 103, 97, and 101 suggest she can challenge if Life Is Sweet regresses off the strongest performance of her career.

For that reason and others, I plan to back Mushka at the mutuel windows.

She also has a bit more tactical speed than Life Is Sweet, gets a five-pound weight break from that rival under the handicap conditions, and seems likely to enjoy a good trip breaking from post 4.

I also find it encouraging that trainer Bill Mott ships her to California from his Florida base at Payson Park. He easily could have found a race for her on turf in Florida if he felt she simply needed a start.

Lewis: American Lion can improve

The Grade 2 Robert Lewis, delayed a week after racing was canceled at Santa Anita last Saturday because of drainage problems following rain, is another intriguing race.

A short field of five will make big prices hard to find, but the race has at least two legitimate Kentucky Derby prospects in Tiz Chrome and American Lion, perhaps more.

My money is going on American Lion, whose workmanlike score in in his final start at age 2 might have some questioning whether he can keep up with Tiz Chrome.

I believe there is more to this horse than what he showed in the Hollywood Prevue. His Oct. 18 maiden victory at Keeneland is evidence of that.

That day he sizzled seven furlongs in 1:22.22 despite seemingly being on cruise control, winning with his ears pricked.

He was so relaxed in that race, as well as in the Hollywood Prevue, I believe he will settle in the early stages of the 1 1/16-mile race - it's his first race around two turns - and being drawn outside of Tiz Chrome may give him a tactical advantage.

Suncoast: Count on Diva Delite

Santa Anita is not the only warm-weather track with a stakes-filled card Saturday. Tampa Bay Downs also has three stakes, with the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis being the headline event.

Yet it is the sister race to the Sam F. Davis, the Suncoast for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and 40 yards, that has me thinking "wager."

That race drew a deep field of 10, plus a couple of also-eligibles. Included in the body of the field is Diva Delite, a former claimer that has risen up the ranks to become a stakes winner.

With Diva Delite drawn on the outside in a race with a short run to the first turn, I suspect some horseplayers will try to take a shot beating her, particularly with a number of Gulfstream Park invaders in the lineup.

Not this handicapper. Diva Delite is a no-excuses kind of horse - a filly that has won the last five times she has raced on dirt. She has won sprinting, routing, on fast tracks, on wet tracks.

Her versatile running style has contributed to that success. She can press a slow pace, as she did in winning the seven-furlong Gasparilla at Tampa Jan. 16, or rally from the rear half of the field in a faster-paced contest if needed.

I suspect she will be wide in Saturday's Suncoast, but she is a horse comfortable making sweeping rallies. And her experience at Tampa will further be a benefit.