03/01/2008 12:00AM

Sweeter Still best in China Doll

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Sweeter Still remained perfect in 2008 with a victory in Saturday's $94,550 China Doll Stakes at Santa Anita, the first career stakes win for trainer Ral Ayers.

Ayers, 29, is normally an assistant to trainer Jeff Mullins, but he has taken over the barn while Mullins serves a 20-day suspension for a medication violation.

Sweeter Still ($11.80) ran a mile on turf in 1:35.57, winning by a length over Carnival Queen. Gorgeous Goose, the 9-10 favorite, finished third in the field of seven 3-year-old fillies.

Sweeter Still stalked pacesetter Czechers through an early pace of 23.26 and 47.72 seconds before challenging for the lead on the final turn. Sweeter Still took the lead before the eighth pole under jockey Martin Garcia.

"I was very encouraged," Ayers said. "We thought she was this kind."

Carnival Queen closed from last to finish second, a half-length in front of Gorgeous Goose, who rallied to reach contention on the final turn but never threatened the winner.

Sweeter Still has won 2 of 4 starts and $88,757. The China Doll was her third start in the United States, preceded by a ninth-place finish in the Grade 3 Miesque Stakes last November and a win in a maiden race at Santa Anita on Jan. 18.

Owned by David Lanzman and Jason Wood, Sweeter Still began her career in Ireland, where she finished fourth in the Flame of Tara Stakes at The Curragh last September.

Sweeter Still may return in the $150,000 Providencia Stakes on April 5.