The Sweet Sisters, One of Only Two Sets of Full-Siblings to Win the Breeders' Cup

Sweet Catomine and Life Is Sweet at Lane's End | Sarah Andrew

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Celebrating 40 Years of the Breeders' Cup with Living Legends

In the nearly 40-year history of the Breeders' Cup, only two sets of full-siblings have won Breeders' Cup races. It's difficult enough for a mare to produce one Breeders' Cup winner, but two individual Breeders' Cup winners? That's such a rarity only six mares have ever done it. And only two of those six have had lightning strike twice as they've produced two Breeders' Cup winners by the same sire. The first set, Juddmonte homebreds Banks Hill (GB) and Intercontinental (GB), won the GI Filly & Mare Turf in 2001 and 2004, respectively. By Danehill and out of the wonder mare Hasili (Ire), each wrapped up their broodmare careers in Great Britain.

Closer to home are full-sisters Sweet Catomine and Life Is Sweet. Both by Storm Cat out of the Kris S. mare Sweet Life, the Sweet sisters won the 2004 GI Juvenile Fillies and the 2009 GI Ladies Classic, respectively. Both raced as homebreds for Pam and Marty Wygod and both were uber-talented with a number of other top-class graded events on their CVs to go along with their Breeders' Cup wins.

The moment was cemented alongside Trevor Denman's call in 2009 at Santa Anita. Life Is Sweet, despite capturing the GI Santa Margarita and two other graded stakes earlier that year, had the distinct misfortune of running against the mighty Zenyatta three times in 2009. She was always a bit in Zenyatta's shadow, magnified because the two shared a conditioner in John Shirreffs. Zenyatta, the defending Ladies Classic winner, would skip the race in 2009 and face the boys in the Classic instead, which of course she would win in one of the most thrilling Breeders' Cup races to date. Without her stablemate, Life Is Sweet finally had her moment to shine and shine she did.

Life Is Sweet takes the 2009 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic | Sarah Andrew

Life Is Sweet trailed about 20 lengths behind the leader leaving the backstretch, was still last coming off the turn, and borrowed a Zenyatta-like move. Denman captured the excitement:

“Life Is Sweet exploding in the center and Life Is Sweet looking like she just joined in at the quarter pole! And it's Life Is Sweet and Garrett Gomez annihilating them in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic. Life Is Sweet could not have been more impressive!”

Denman didn't mention the significance at the time of just the second set of full-sisters to win the Breeders' Cup, but owner Marty Wygod did in the winner's circle. And make no mistake, for a broodmare to accomplish that is a very, very big deal. Sweet Life would be named Broodmare of the Year in 2009.

The sisters Sweet were both foaled and raised at Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington. Ric Waldman of Storm Cat fame worked with the Wygods on the matings, according to Mill Ridge's Price Bell, Jr. Donnie Snellings, now with Denali Stud and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club's 2018 Farm Manager of the Year, was instrumental in raising both as fillies at Mill Ridge. Even today, so many years after they'd left his care, his affection for them still rings through.

“It was an immense gratification [to see them win the Breeders' Cup],” said Snellings. “That's what we do this for. We obviously work long hours and to see something you've raised turn out that way is immensely gratifying.

Sweet Catomine with Ruben Trujillo | Sarah Andrew

“Sweet Catomine was my special one. I really liked her. We raised her there on the farm and she was just a special filly. Sometimes when you're around good horses, they just give you a feel. She was super easy to deal with, had a great attitude, would do anything you asked her to do, very willing.”

Bell confirmed that Snellings knew early something exceptional was brewing with Sweet Catomine.

“Sometimes when you work with them, you just know there is something different,” said Bell. “I still remember him gloating about Sweet Catomine. He said she breathed different air. He had a soft spot for her. He talked about her with passion.”

Snellings was pleased to confirm it.

“You get a sense that the animal is special and she was very special. We had her up until she was a yearling, both of them until they went off for breaking,” said Snellings. “To see horses like that move on and go on to win the Breeders' Cup means we raised them the right way. It's very gratifying.

Life Is Sweet | Sarah Andrew

“Life Is Sweet I don't remember as well as Sweet Catomine, but that's just a fantastic family. How often does this happen? Two full-sisters winning the Breeders' Cup. How fortunate it is that both those fillies were raised at the farm. Mill Ridge has had some very special mares and some very special owners.”

Sweet Catomine broke her maiden in the GI Del Mar Debutante as the first in a five-race win streak–all in graded races–which included the Juvenile Fillies. She was a part of the late Julio Canani's barn. Her Breeders' Cup win, five years before her younger sister's, happened during the championship's stop at Lone Star Park. Tom Durkin had that call and it was just as exciting as Life Is Sweet's. Let's pick it up leaving the backstretch, with the patented Durkin energy that made every Breeders' Cup call indelible.

“Oh! Sweet Catomine had to check and it cost her dearly. She checked in traffic… Sweet Catomine now has running room. And here comes the big filly on the outside… Sweet Catomine has overpowered them and strides away impressively and unquestionably the 2-year-old filly champion. She wins by five.”

Sweet Catomine with Ruben Trujillo and Life Is Sweet with Pedro Valdivia at Lane's End | Sarah Andrew

Sweet Life was carrying Life Is Sweet in utero when Sweet Catomine won her Breeders' Cup. The mare had three more foals by Storm Cat: the MSW & MSP colt named Calimonco and two unraced fillies. Another daughter, by Bernardini, would produce MGSW Modernist, a son of Uncle Mo whose first foals were born this year. He stands at Darby Dan Farm.

“It's a phenomenal family that we worked with and raised for the Wygods,” said Bell. “Those [Breeders' Cup] races were incredible.”

Both Breeders' Cup winners raced briefly after championship day. Sweet Catomine would be named the Eclipse champion 2-year-old filly and the next spring parlayed a GI Santa Anita Oaks victory into a try against the boys in the GI Santa Anita Derby. To the disappointment of many in the sport, she wasn't herself that day and finished fifth as the odds-on favorite, one spot behind eventual GI Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo. A controversy ensued, resulting in the Wygods removing her from Canani's barn to the Shirreffs shedrow, where she only spent a brief amount of time. She was eventually retired without racing again.

Life Is Sweet finished second in her one start the spring following her Breeders' Cup win, but she had a history of tying up and it was decided to retire her. It was in the days before TikTok and Instagram, but Shirreffs surely would have been a sensation if they'd been around. At the time, he uploaded a number of videos of Life Is Sweet around the barn to YouTube and they were extremely popular. Bell remembers them, too.

“In those early days when John would have a camera in the barn, he spent a lot of time with Life Is Sweet. He would feed her each morning as she was laying down. I just remember John loving on her, feeding her in the stall on the ground. It was beautiful, individual attention he would give to her and I'm sure all of his horses. He really showcases them as individuals.”

For an example of one of the videos, click here. Spoiler alert: it will warm even the hardest of hearts.

When contacted recently, Shirreffs shared the video and commented, “This is Life is Sweet, everything on her time.”

Ruben Trujillo and Sweet Catomine with Pedro Valdivia and Life Is Sweet | Sarah Andrew

Both Sweet Catomine and Life Is Sweet were retained by the Wygods and each produced several winners. They are now living the life of Riley together at Lane's End Farm near Versailles.

“Both are pensioned,” said Alys Emson, who works in client management at Lane's End. “Sweet Catomine had her last foal in 2018. Life Is Sweet had her last foal in 2021. This is the 2-year-old filly called Life's for Living [by Uncle Mo]. She was sold as a yearling [to Mathiesen Racing at Keeneland September for $170,000]. Mr. and Mrs. Wygod still board their mares with us and have retained various offshoots of the family.

“They are different physically,” continued Emson. “Sweet Catomine is a big, wide-chested mare that is very powerfully made. Life Is Sweet is a little smaller and more refined in type.

“We have a group of retired mares that live in two to three separate fields depending on the time of year. These two are in the same field. They are outside all the time unless they need special care. They are fed and checked twice a day and just allowed to enjoy life and do as they please.”

Broodmare of the Year Sweet Life passed away earlier this year at the age of 27 and was buried at Lane's End. As Juddmonte's Hasili was based primarily in Newmarket, Sweet Life remains the only U.S.-based mare to produce two Breeders' Cup-winning full-siblings. To borrow words from Bell and Snellings, surely “she breathed different air.”

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