ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 5, 2017)—A stalking third around the Club House turn, America’s newest superstar 3-year-old could wait no longer with five furlongs to run and in the blink of an eye, Unique Bella, with Mike Smith at the controls, left last year’s Eclipse Award winning Juvenile Filly and three others in her dust en route to a commanding 8 ¾ length win in Sunday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Unique Bella cruised a flat mile in 1:35.66, earning a 98 Beyer.
“The way she settled, I could’ve taken her even farther back (early),” said Smith, who has been aboard Unique Bella in all four of her career starts. “At some point you have to let them be who they are; let them do what they’re good at. I just let her do what she wanted to do and she picked it up and was well within herself. It was an amazing race.
“She’s very talented. She created that move down the backstretch until about the quarter pole and she was well within herself from that point on. Honestly, even then, and I didn’t want her to, she switched to her right lead and it took her there.”
A Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Tapit, out of the Unbridled’s Song mare, Unrivaled Belle, Unique Bella, who was trying two turns for the first time following a 7 ½ length win in the seven furlong Santa Ynez (Grade 2) here on Jan. 8, was the overwhelming 1-9 favorite in the tote board and with no show wagering, paid $2.20 and $2.10.
“…I was pretty confident when Mike kind of made his move early, but I knew that he knew he had a lot of horse, so he just went for it and it turned out well,” said Hollendorfer. “I really like to concentrate on the filly races…I’d like to keep her in California (for the Grade I, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks on April 8) just like I did with (Eclipse Champion) Songbird last year.”
Owned by Don Alberto Stable, Unique Bella is now 4-3-1-0 and with the winner’s share of $120,000, she increased her earnings to $282,400.
In what developed into a separate race, Champagne Room, who had been idle since winning the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 5, hooked up with recent maiden winner Mopotism turning for home, and it was “Mo” who proved best today, finishing second by 1 ¼ lengths.
Ridden by Flavien Prat, Mopotism, who showed the way for the first quarter mile, was off at 13-1 and paid $4.00 to show.
Champagne Room, who was ridden by Mario Gutierrez, was the second choice at 9-2, but had to settle for third, finishing 11 ½ lengths in front of Miss Southern Miss.
Fractions on the race were 22.82, 45.62, 1:10.27 and 1:22.71.
Racing resumes at Santa Anita on Thursday with first post time at 1 p.m.
Grade 2, $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes Quotes
MIKE SMITH, UNIQUE BELLA, WINNER: “The way she settled, I could have taken her even farther back. At some point you have to let them be who they are; let them do what they’re good at. I just let her do what she wanted to do and she picked it up and was well within herself. It was an amazing race.
“She’s very talented. She created that move down the backside until about the quarter pole and she was well within herself from that point on. Honestly, even then and I didn’t want her to, but she switched to her right lead and it took her there.
“It’s crazy how she gets up underneath herself. She’s very athletic. I was really happy with the way that she settled. I could have taken her farther back. You want to experiment but you don’t want to do something so drastic that you completely throw them off their game. I didn’t want to grab her any harder. She was very happy. She was pricking her ears and having a good time. I was very happy to let her do whatever she wanted to do after that.
“She’s quick if I want her to be and she doesn’t have to be on the lead. If you’re always out front, someone’s is going to take a shot at you, go at you hard. Now I know that if someone wants to do that, I can settle.”
JERRY HOLLENDORFER, UNIQUE BELLA, WINNER: “You never expect that (winning as easily as she did), but I was pretty confident when Mike kind of made his move early. I knew that he knew he had a lot of horse, so he just went for it and it turned out well. She did settle, and the reason she went was Mike felt like he had a lot of horse. So when he did that, I felt pretty confident that she would really lay it down.”
As to running against males: “I really like to concentrate on the filly races. If an opportunity came to do something else we’d probably have to consider that, but I’d like to keep her against the fillies if I can.
“I’d like to keep her in California (for the Grade 1, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks at 1 1/16 miles on April 8), just like I did with Songbird last year. There’s enough money to run out here and run against the girls, not the boys. I think we’ll try and run here and if we’d be fortunate enough, we’d point to the (Kentucky) Oaks.
“I have to take it (her ability) in stride, because you just have to. Songbird won her races by a lot of lengths like this filly does, but I don’t like to compare fillies and I won’t compare those two.”
FERNANDO DIAZ-VALDES, RACING MANAGER FOR DONALBERTO STABLE, UNIQUE BELLA, WINNER: “She’s impressive. You never know when you’re going to run with a wonderful champion two-year-old. You always have second thoughts, but she proved that she is very good. She was very impressive.
“I think it’s too early to say (whether they would consider a run against males to gain Kentucky Derby qualifying points). We’ll have to take a look at what’s happening around the country. We have to go to the next level first, probably a Grade 3 . . . I’m told I shouldgo to the Kentucky Derby, when the time comes, but we’ll see.”
Source: Santa Anita Park