ARCADIA, Calif. — All Life Is Sweet needed was a chance.
A chance to get away from her champion stablemate who never failed to snatch the thunder right from under her.
A chance to show she could live up to her regal pedigree and a chance to prove that, on her best day, she could be a leader in her division as well.
On Friday, Life Is Sweet took the opportunity handed to her and ran with it for all she was worth.
The filly who had been in the shadow of undefeated Zenyatta all year took a cue from her famed barn mate and devoured her rivals with a rocket-like rally from dead last in the eight-horse field to capture the $2 million Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita Park by 21/2 lengths over Mushka before a crowd of 37,651 on the opening day of the World Championships. Last year's Friday attendance was 31,257.
A full sister to 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Sweet Catomine, Life Is Sweet was one of six Grade I winners in the Ladies' Classic field, but she was best known as trainer John Shirreffs' "other" distaffer after losing three times to Zenyatta this season.
With Zenyatta — the 2008 Ladies' Classic winner — facing males this year in Saturday's $5 million Classic, Life Is Sweet finally had the stage to herself. And, just as Zenyatta did in the 11⁄8-mile test a year ago, Life Is Sweet didn't let anyone keep her from having her moment.
"You know, I've been waiting for Life Is Sweet to do that for a couple of races now," said Shirreffs, who also trains Zenyatta. "She swung wide. She made a great run down the stretch. Just looked like her old self again.
"We always felt she was going to run a big race today if the opportunity presented itself."
Before running into her unbeaten stablemate, Life Is Sweet had ruled the Santa Anita scene, winning three straight graded stakes to start the year, including a 21/2-length triumph in the Grade I Santa Margarita Handicap on March 14.
From there, the 4-year-old daughter of Storm Cat fell into a four-race losing skid that included a third-place run against males in the Hollywood Gold Cup and a fourth-place finish behind Zenyatta in the Grade I Lady's Secret on Oct. 10.
"The thing that was frustrating us was, after her three races at Santa Anita where she was showing she had the makings of possibly being a champion, she just wasn't right after that," said owner and breeder Marty Wygod, who also campaigned Sweet Catomine along with his wife, Pam. "She would continually tie up (cramp) and give John a lot of different problems. She was off and on medication. But John felt very strongly she'd be right today."
With regular rider Garrett Gomez up, Life Is Sweet was squeezed back after the start and settled into eighth as 9-to-5 favorite Careless Jewel tried to steal things on the front end, opening up by 9 lengths at one point down the backside while setting fractions of :23.50 and :45.78.
"At the first quarter, she was going OK, but then she locked on to the bridle and went as far as she could as fast as she could," said Robert Landry, jockey for Careless Jewel.
By the time she approached the final turn, Careless Jewel had thrown in the towel as Proviso took a short lead over Lethal Heat at the head of the lane.
At that point, Life Is Sweet switched into overdrive, advancing five-wide in the stretch to outlast fellow late-runner Mushka and Music Note, who finished third in the Ladies' Classic for a second consecutive season.
"John (Shirreffs) told me today he thought she was back to her old self, and when I got around the first turn and she kind of grabbed me, I said, I think he's right," Gomez said. "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."
Final time for the race was 1:48.58.
Whenever Shirreffs has been asked about the top female runner in his barn, the subject of their inquiry was obvious.
Should Life Is Sweet keep getting the right opportunities, her trainer might have to ask people to clarify about whom they are inquiring.
"If she's totally sound, we would seriously think about racing her another year," Wygod said of his filly. "I told Garrett right before he got up on her, she was going to be a different filly."