ARCADIA, CA – Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella regained her early 2017 form and outlasted Paradise Woods in an epic stretch duel to take Tuesday’s Grade 1, $300,000 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita.
Off cleanly from post 3 under Mike Smith, Unique Bella found herself 2 lengths behind the lead pack initially but quickly closed the gap to run five-wide while Princess Karen led by a head through an opening 1/4-mile of :22.26. Unique Bella then settled off slightly as Paradise Woods edged in front. Entering the far turn, Unique Bella once again hit the gas to pass the fading Princess Karen and try to catch Paradise Woods, who carried a 1-length lead off of the far turn. Unique Bella soon joined her, and the pair commenced a stretch-long duel. Noses apart at the 1/8 pole, Unique Bella began inching away and crossed the wire first by 3/4 of a length in a final time of 1:21.49 for the 7-furlong main track sprint.
“She broke really well today and I got her going,” Smith said. “I was concerned about going too fast early. That was the problem in the Breeders’ Cup (Filly & Mare Sprint, when the heavily-favored Unique Bella used up all of her energy on the backside). She has been training very aggressively in the mornings, so that was my concern. She relaxed and rated and was happy with the pace she had to run today. She gave it all she had to get the job done.”
Though caught and passed late, Paradise Woods stayed to the task and took second by 1 3/4 lengths.
“She broke well and had a good trip,” said jockey Flavien Prat. “She relaxed well, and turning for home, she re-engaged and ran a good race.”
Mopotism edged out Marley’s Freedom by a neck for third. Just a Little Hope was a 1/2-length ahead of Princess Karen, while 17 lengths back, Faypien and Miss Sunset completed the order of the finish.
Unique Bella’s win increased her career earnings to $592,400 with a record of 8-6-1-0. A $400,000 yearling purchase, the 3-year-old daughter of Tapit – out of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Unrivaled Belle – has always carried high expectations, but her sometimes fractious nature has been her undoing. Throughout it all, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s belief in her ability never wavered.
“We never lost confidence in her,” he said. “We worked with her and got her to run a good race today—thank God. Mike and I both thought she went too fast early last time, and she didn’t finish. Today, he let her lay a little off the pace and kept her wide and she finished well. I have confidence in Unique Bella; she gets into it. I thought she’d beat her (Paradise Woods), and down the lane, she did it.”
Unique Bella returned $4.60 to win, $2.80 to place, and $2.60 to show. Paradise Woods brought back $3.20 to place and $2.80 to show, while Mopotism paid $4.60 to show.