ARCADIA, CA – Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella returned to the track in blowout fashion, easily wiring the field of five in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita.
Breaking sharply from post 4 under Mike Smith, Unique Bella stormed to the lead and immediately distanced herself by multiple lengths by the time she exited the first turn. Under Smith, the 2017 Eclipse Award Winner for Female Sprinter displayed an ability to settle comfortably, posting moderate fractions of :23.54, :46.80, and 1:10.95. As her trailing foes were put to work through the far turn, Unique Bella maintained a seemingly leisurely pace down the front stretch, while Smith sat statuesque aboard her. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee was never asked to run, yet still hit the wire first by 9 lengths in a final time of 1:43.45 for the 1 1/16-mile main track event.
“I think she really got a hold of the track today,” Hollendorfer said. “We thought we would be on the lead, but Mike was talking with me this morning, and we thought that if somebody went real hard or something like that, we’d just try to lay off the pace and see if she would relax, but she got out to the lead and was handling the track very well.”
Mopotism, a winner here last out in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes, was second by 1 1/4 lengths over Majestic Heat. Much farther back, Shenandoah Queen and Kathy’s Song completed the order of finish.
Unique Bella’s win improved her record to 8-7-1-0 with career earnings of $712,400. The 4-year-old daughter of Tapit had won at this same distance in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes last March before an injury caused her to miss the summer. When she returned, Hollendorfer cut her back to 6 1/2 furlongs to win the Grade 3 L.A. Woman Stakes, but her Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint contest at 7 furlongs proved disastrous, as her seventh-place finish was her only career off-the-board result. She returned on December 26 to win the 7-furlong Grade 1 La Brea Stakes, but stretching back out seemed to do her well, and her connections have big plans in store for her future.
“I really don’t think we’ve seen how good she can be,” Smith said. “I’ve surely seen how easily she’s doing things right now, which I think is extremely impressive. I truly believe we haven’t gotten to the bottom of it. There could even be more to her. I’m excited to see what the future holds for her, I really am. There are some different things we can do with her, too, because of her size. She probably can step up to the boys at some point. Who knows, because she’s not just a one-gutted kind of filly. She’s got a lot to her. She’s built more like a colt.”
Unique Bella returned $2.20 to win, $2.10 to place, and $2.10 to show. Mopotism brought back $2.80 to place and $2.10 to show, while Majestic Heat paid $2.10 to show.