LIFE IS SWEET, DESERT CODE HEAD SUNDAY'S GRADED STAKES

ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 12, 2009) – Dominant El Encino Stakes winner Life Is Sweet and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint champion Desert Code, each having demonstrated a keen fondness for Santa Anita’s respective racing surfaces, head a pair of graded stakes at the track on Sunday.

Martin and Pam Wygod’s Life Is Sweet is the 123-pound high weight among nine entrants in the 35th running of the Grade II, $200,000 La Canada Stakes. She attempts to become the twelfth El Encino victor to also annex the mile-and-one-eighth event for 4-year-old fillies.

Idle since his 36-1 stunner in the Breeders’ Cup race on Oct. 25, Tarabilla Farms’ Desert Code returns against seven rivals as the 122-pound high weight in the Grade III, $100,000 Daytona Handicap. He attempts to gain his fifth victory in seven starts at 6 ½ furlongs over Santa Anita’s unique hillside turf course.

Making her first start in Southern California and first for trainer John Shirreffs in the Jan. 19 El Encino, Life Is Sweet looked stunning over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface with her 1:41.30 clocking for 1 1/16 miles matching the second fastest in the event’s 45-year history.

Racing in the East while winning twice in seven starts over six different tracks as a 3-year-old, Life Is Sweet seemed a different filly at age four as she transitioned to the West Coast. Her 2 ½-length triumph in the El Encino, worth $90,000, brought the homebred Storm Cat filly’s earnings to $240,810 from a 3-2-0 record in eight starts.

“She just really came around well,” Shirreffs said following the El Encino. “By the eighth pole, she had inhaled the whole field,” said jockey Garrett Gomez, “and she stayed on her left lead, so she’s still learning. It’s nice to know there’s more left in the tank.”

She certainly couldn’t be considered a welcome prospect for Bsharpsonata and Magical Fantasy, Life Is Sweet’s primary rivals in the La Canada, who are co-weighted at 120 pounds.

A winner of 7 of 14 starts and $562,010 for Cloverleaf Farm II Inc., Bsharpsonata was third behind Indian Blessing and Ginger Pop in the Grade I La Brea Stakes on Dec. 27. Rafael Bejarano will be back aboard the Pulpit filly for trainer Todd Pletcher. She won back-to-back Grade II stakes at Gulfstream Park last winter, the Forward Gal and Davona Dale, and was a neck loser to Little Belle when second in the Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.

Imported from England early last year by David Bienstock and partners, Magical Fantasy is coming out of four successive Grade I grass stakes including the Del Mar Oaks, which she won by two lengths at odds of 42-1. Alex Solis rides the Kentucky-bred daughter of Diesis, who compiled a record of 1-2-0 in four races over synthetics in England. Now trained by Paddy Gallagher, Magical Fantasy shows career earnings of $274,431 from a 2-3-0 mark in 11 starts.

The complete field for the La Canada Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Bsharpsonata, Rafael Bejarano, 120; Miss Singhsix, Joel Rosario, 116; Accopela Choir, Martin Garcia, 116; Magical Fantasy, Alex Solis, 120; Taste’s Sis, Alonso Quinonez, 116; Ginger Pop, Jose Valdivia Jr., 116; Spring Style, Tyler Baze, 116; Modification, Joseph Talamo, 116, and Life Is Sweet, Garrett Gomez, 123.

As for Desert Code, it seems ironic that one of his rare poor efforts over Santa Anita’s downhill grass layout occurred in last year’s Daytona Handicap when finishing eleventh behind Cheroot. He drew the rail that day as he has for Sunday.

Trainer David Hofmans forgave last year’s uncharacteristic showing. “He’s never been better, and he loves this course,” said Hofmans after the 6-year-old gelding rallied from ninth entering the stretch under Richard Migliore to take Oak Tree’s $1,094,620 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

Migliore, who has moved his tack to New York, will be replaced in the saddle by Aaron Gryder, who has ridden the 5-year-old son of E Dubai twice previously. Desert Code’s Breeders’ Cup win shot his earnings over the million-dollar mark to $1,028,938 from a 6-4-2 log in 19 lifetime starts.

Sky Cape, the second high weight at 118 pounds, is Desert Code’s most accomplished rival with earnings of $320,230 from a 5-4-1 mark in 16 career races. A 4-year-old Najran colt bred in Kentucky by his trainer, Kristen Mulhall, Sky Cape’s victories include the Grade II La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar last summer. He has a win and a second in two starts over Santa Anita’s downhill turf course. Mike Smith has the mount for the partnership of Blue, Taub and Visionary Racing LLC.

The complete field for the Daytona Handicap, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Desert Code, Aaron Gryder, 122; Z Humor, Gomez, 115; Euroglide, Michael Baze, 114; Sky Cape, Mike Smith, 118; Guns On the Table, Tyler Baze, 113; Dark Islander, Bejarano, 115; Majestic Diamond, Julien Couton, 116, and Big Bad Leroybrown, Rosario, 113.

The Daytona Handicap will be run as the third race on a nine-race program with first post at 12:30 p.m. The La Canada goes as the eighth race. HRTV will televise the entire card. -30-