ARCADIA, CA – Unique Bella reigned supreme once again in Saturday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes against 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles over the main track in 1:43.11. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and ridden by Mike Smith, favored Unique Bella defeated five rivals in preparation for the Grade 1, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks at Santa Anita Park on April 8.
“It was pretty eventful,” Smith said after dismounting the massive filly by Tapit out of the Unbridled’s Song mare, Unrivaled Belle. “Sometimes, you just have to stay out of the way of the good ones, and they’ll run for you. That’s pretty much what I did today. I was blessed enough to be able to lead my way out.”
After a slow start from the rail, Unique Bella sat behind Tap It All, with Santiago Gonzalez aboard, into the first turn. Not wanting to be trapped down by the rail, Smith made a quick decision and mounted an aggressive move in between horses, forcing stablemate Spooky Woods wide in order to get to the outside.
“I was wondering if Mike would stay on the rail or get out in the open,” Hollendorfer said following the race. “He chose to get out in the open.”
The Simon Callaghan-trained Abel Tasman, off since her win in the Grade 1 Starlet on December 10, launched a game move at the 3/16 pole turning for home, but she never quite reached Unique Bella and was quickly put away when Smith waved his stick at “Bella,” keeping his filly on task.
“Hats off to the winner,” said Joe Talamo, who was aboard Abel Tasman. “What a special filly she is. I had a lot of horse and we had a beautiful trip.”
“When I saw her come into the lane, I felt she was waiting on horses a little bit,” Hollendorfer said regarding Unique’s Bella’s stretch run. “Mike had to wave the stick, but she responded right away. I wasn’t too worried.”
Fractions on the race were 23.35, 46.23, 1:10.70, and 1:36.73. Spooky Woods, Mistressofthenight, What What What, and Tap It All rounded out the order.
When asked what is next for his newest budding superstar, Hollendorfer confirmed that he would keep Unique Bella running against fillies and will point towards the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks at 1 1/16 miles on April 8. “It’s a perfect progression. We’d like to go for the Santa Anita Oaks, and if we win or do well, then we’ll try to go to Kentucky for the Oaks.”
With $60,000 awarded to the winner, Unique Bella now has lifetime earnings of $342,400 and a record of 5-4-1-0. As part of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, she earned 50 qualifying points on the win.
Unique Bella returned $2.20, $2.10, and $2.10. Abel Tasman brought back $2.40 and $2.10, while Spooky Woods paid $2.80 to show.
GRADE 3, $100,000 SANTA YSABEL QUOTES
Jockey Joe Talamo (Abel Tasman): “Turning for home, I had a lot of horse under me. Like I said, I really had a lot of horse, and we had a beautiful trip. The winner broke a little slow, which I was happy to see. I was so proud of my filly. I think she’s definitely going to move forward from here.”
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer (Unique Bella): “She’s been coming along quite well, we’re real happy with her. She didn’t get away great today, but we’ll fix that.
“It’s a great honor to be considered the front-runner for the Kentucky Oaks. We’re blessed to have good horses, so I feel really grateful to have a horse like Unique Bella and equally as grateful for Songbird last year.
“We’re just trying to do our best and she’s rewarding us.
“I don’t have any thoughts about running her against the boys, but some other folks do, I guess.
“I hope they don’t have to match up this year (Songbird and Unique Bella.) I had enough match up with Beholder. That was a pretty good match-up.”
Fernando Diaz-Valdes, Racing Manager for Don Alberto Stable (Unique Bella): “When we got to the stretch, Mike told me he was looking around, but when he asked her, she immediately answered. It was a little slow. I would think the pace would have been a little bit faster. I was expecting more speed. Finally, it’s one step closer with what we want to do with her. I think Santa Anita Oaks, for sure.”
Santa Anita Park