Seven fillies and mares entered Sunday’s $100,000 L.A. Woman Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park, but all eyes will be on dual Grade 2 heroine Unique Bella.
The Tapit filly dropped her initial start in June 2016, but rebounded in November to break her maiden by 10 lengths at Del Mar. Unique Bella has not tasted defeat since, immediately tackling graded rivals for a 7 1/2-length victory in the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) to open her sophomore campaign on January 8 and conquering the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) on February 5 by 8 3/4 lengths.
The Jerry Hollendorfer pupil made her last start in the Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) on March 4 while stretching out to 1 1/16 miles. The increase in distance didn’t appear to bother the gray lass, as she recorded a 2 1/4-length score that day.
Unfortunately, Unique Bella was sidelined soon after by what her trainer described as a shin issue, and didn’t return to the worktab until late August. She’s been working up a storm since then, most recently recording a half-mile bullet in :45.60 at Santa Anita on Wednesday.
The Pennsylvania-bred filly cuts back to 6 1/2 furlongs for the L.A. Woman and faces her elders for the first time in the race. Mike Smith, who has been aboard for all five of her career starts, returns to the saddle.
Bad Ju Ju closed out her four-year-old season with a trio of wins, including the Kalookan Queen Stakes, but opened this year with a subpar fifth in the Santa Monica Stakes (G2) for trainer Peter Miller. The Desert Code mare took a spring and summer vacation following that January 21 affair, returning on August 4 to be third in the Daisycutter Handicap at Del Mar. Bad Ju Ju filled the runner-up spot in the C.E.R.F. Stakes most recently on September 4 and keeps the services of jockey Drayden Van Dyke as she tries to spoil Unique Bella’s return.
Also hoping to beat Unique Bella in her return to competition is Princess Karen. The Jeff Bonde-trained sophomore was no match for her rival when fourth in the Santa Ynez but wired the Beverly J. Lewis Stakes last out on September 9 at Los Alamitos. Kent Desormeaux was aboard for that win and retains the mount on Princess Karen.
Spring Fever Handicap victress Cuddle Alert will do her best to upset the apple cart on Sunday. Trained by Reed Saldana, the Bedford Falls mare scored in a Del Mar allowance/optional claimer two back and enters this spot off a fourth in the C.E.R.F. Stakes. Edwin Maldonaldo has the call.
Lunar Empress, fourth in the La Brea Stakes (G1) last year and fifth last out in the C.E.R.F. Stakes, goes in this spot under jockey Flavien Prat for trainer Richard Baltas. Rounding out the L.A. Woman field are former claimer Sturdy One and stakes debuter Dis Smart Cat.