03/12/2010 1:00AM

Sweeter Still back after 10-month layoff


ARCADIA, Calif. - There is no pressing need for Sweeter Still to win her first start in 10 months Sunday at Santa Anita, and trainer Jeff Mullins admits the purpose of the $55,000 Clocker's Corner Handicap is "just to get a race into her."

On the other hand, Mullins said, "It wouldn't surprise me to see her jump up with a big race."

Sweeter Still has done it before, winning won 4 of 7 as a 3-year-old in 2008 before she was stalled by hind-end issues. She raced just once the past year and a half.

Sweeter Still is the 120-pound top weight Sunday in the Clocker's Corner, a 6 1/2-furlong turf sprint that serves as a prep for the Grade 3 Las Cienegas on the same course April 11.

Eleven fillies and mares entered the Clocker's Corner, including graded-stakes-placed Czechers, enigmatic Empressive Lady, last-start winner Porto Marnay, and recently disappointing Dreamt.

A rainy winter interrupted Sweeter Still's training pattern. Sweeter Still won stakes on all three Southern California turf courses in 2008 - the China Doll at Santa Anita, Grade 2 Senorita at Hollywood Park, and Sandy Blue at Del Mar. Mullins said her only start last spring was a mistake.

"We probably ran her back too quick," he said.

Since then, Mullins has taken his time with Sweeter Still, who came from near the back to win a maiden race in her only start on the downhill. Tyler Baze rides for owner David Lanzman, and though the course recently has favored speed, Sweeter Still could still get it done first start back.

"She's as gutty as they come, and she's doing great," Mullins said.

If Sweeter Still needs a race, Mullins could win it with Empressive Lady, whose last two starts were throwouts. She reared and was eliminated two back and misfired last time around two turns. A sprinter, Empressive Lady has run well down the hill.

"Her biggest deal is leaving the gate," Mullins said. "You can't push her, you can't strangle her; it has to be her idea."

Empressive Lady is reunited Sunday with Victor Espinoza.

Czechers finished third last time in the fast-paced Grade 2 Buena Vista and benefits from the shorter distance; Porto Marmay won a minor stakes on the hill last time, a race in which Dreamt finished fifth as the favorite.

Other starters include Manhattan Beach, Theodora, Annihilation, Christmas Ship, Bella Roja, and Emmy Darling.