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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

Here, you and other racing fans have the opportunity to vote for Thoroughbred racing’s most memorable moment of 2009. Those selecting the winning image automatically will be entered in a random drawing for a trip for two to the January 18, 2009, Eclipse Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills, Calif., where the winning Moment will be recognized.

The first-ever “NTRA Moment of the Year” was the touching scene involving Charismatic and jockey Chris Antley following the 1999 Belmont Stakes. The following year’s winner was the stretch run of the 2000 Breeders’ Cup. The following year’s winner was the stretch run of the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic, which saw Tiznow hold on for a dramatic victory against Giant’s Causeway. Tiznow won again the following year as fans selected his stirring repeat victory in the Classic over Sakhee. In 2002, fans cited the passing of the last living Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew. In 2003, the popular Kentucky Derby win by Funny Cide was selected. Birdstone’s upset win in the Belmont Stakes over Smarty Jones took down top honors for 2004. In 2005, fans selected Afleet Alex’s spectacular victory in the 2005 Preakness Stakes. Voters in 2006 chose Barbaro’s gallant struggle to recover from his Preakness injury while at the New Bolton Center. The 2007 Moment of the Year was Rags to Riches’ historic victory over Curlin in the Belmont Stakes. Last year, it was Zenyatta’s win in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.

Fans 18 years and older can register to vote, simply login above with your existing NTRA Inside Track ID and password, and then vote for your favorite moment. Voting ends on Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 11:59p.m. ET. If you don’t already have an E-Club id and password, click on “Sign-Up Now” to get one. It’s quick and easy and entitles you to a number of benefits. Good luck!

Eight weeks after her rousing, Zenyatta-like triumph in Oak Tree’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, Life Is Sweet returns to action on Saturday at Santa Anita in the 41st running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

The assignment in a field of nine will be a bit different for the 5-year-old Storm Cat mare, who emerged from the shadow of her John Sheriffs-trained stablemate when sweeping from 17 lengths behind to 2 ½ lengths ahead in the Breeders’ Cup event that Zenyatta had taken in much the same manner one year previous.

The Pam and Martin Wygod homebred was transferred to Shirreffs’ care late in 2008 after residing in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in the East. This will be her first start on grass in California, but she’s no stranger to turf, as her two wins from seven starts for Mott were achieved on grass.

Until now, Shirreffs had kept her running on synthetics in California including three straight victories at Santa Anita capped by the Grade I Santa Margarita Handicap before Life Is Sweet was beaten three times by Zenyatta and ran third against males in the Hollywood Gold Cup last July.

“Her campaign this summer was very difficult,” jockey Garrett Gomez said after negotiating the Breeders’ Cup upset at odds of 8-1. “When you run some tough races like she did, it will take something out of you. I’m glad they were able to get her confidence back.”

Gomez, who has ridden Life Is Sweet in each of her eight starts for Shirreffs, will be back at the controls. “She’s training very well,” Shirreffs said of the earner of $1,770,810 from a 6-3-1 record in 15 lifetime starts. Life Is Sweet’s record in 5 starts on turf is 2-2-0.

Her primary competition appears to be Diamondrella, a 6-year-old British-bred mare making only her second start in California for Hall of Fame jockey-turned trainer Gary Stevens. A multiple Grade I turf winner in the East for trainer Angel Penna Jr., the Rock of Gibraltar offspring ran third behind Ventura and Tuscan Evening in Hollywood Park’s Grade I Matriarch at one mile for Stevens on Nov. 28. Diamondrella and Life Is Sweet were each weighted at a race high of 122 pounds for the San Gorgonio.

Alex Solis has the return riding call aboard the IEAH Stables runner who has posted a career record of 8-2-2 in 19 starts for earnings of $820,576. She finished off the board in her only two non-grass competitions. Diamondrella won Belmont Park’s Grade I Just a Game Stakes last June to gain her sixth straight victory and the Grade I First Lady at Keeneland in October. Both were at one mile. The nine furlongs of the San Gorgonio present her longest distance challenge to date.

The complete field for the San Gorgonio Handicap, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Century Park, Tyler Baze, 118; Rosa Grace, Joseph Talamo, 114; Treat Gently, Rafael Bejarano, 116; Life Is Sweet, Garrett Gomez, 122; Diamondrella, Alex Solis, 122; Czechers, Chantal Sutherland, 115; Lavender Sky, Ahmed Ajtebi, 114; Teamgeist, Mike Smith, 116, and Cat by the Tale, Joel Rosario, 115.

WEEKEND STAKES RACES (unrestricted stakes in N.A. worth $75,000 and up)
California Oaks, 3yo fillies, $75,000, 1 1-16M, Golden Gate Fields

San Gorgonio Handicap, 4&up (f&m), $150,000, Grade II, 1 1-8M (T), Santa Anita Park
Tropical Park Derby, 3yo, $100,000, Grade III, 1 1-8M (T), Calder

Hal’s Hope Stakes, 4&up, $100,000, Grade III, 1M, Gulfstream Park
Monrovia Handicap, 4&up (f&m), $100,000, Grade III, 6 1-2F (T), Santa Anita Park