Don Alberto Stable’s UNIQUE BELLA dueled with Paradise Woods through sizzling early splits before shaking loose from that rival entering the lane of Saturday’s $400,000 Beholder Mile (G1) and pulling off for the 2 1/4-length score at Santa Anita Park.
The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained filly ranged up outside of Paradise Woods as that four-year-old took control of the race soon after the start. The talented duo duked it out through swift fractions of :22.51 and :44.96, with only a head separating Paradise Woods from Unique Bella.
The pair continued battling rounding the bend, but Paradise Woods was visibly tiring and began backing up. Unique Bella, however, continued on under jockey Mike Smith, holding off the late-running La Force to stop the clock in 1:35.60 for a mile over the fast main track.
Sent off the 1-2 heavy favorite, Unique Bella returned $3 for the win. La Force was best of the rest, 5 1/2 lengths up on 5-2 second choice Paradise Woods. It was another 4 1/2 lengths behind to Vale Dori, who just missed by a neck when second in this race last year. Munny Spunt completed the order of finish.
Unique Bella joined the millionaire’s club with this win, as she now boasts $1,092,400 in lifetime earnings. That goes along with an 8-2-0 line from 11 career starts.
The four-year-old daughter of Tapit broke her maiden by 10 lengths in her second try as a juvenile and continue her winning ways into her sophomore campaign last year. Following four graded wins, she suffered her worse loss to date when seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) in her second race off a seven-month break.
That didn’t prevent voters from honoring Unique Bella with an Eclipse Award as the 2017 champion female sprinter. The gray miss closed out her three-year-old season with a win in the La Brea Stakes (G1) on December 26 and returned February 10 to take the Santa Maria Stakes (G2) by nine lengths.
Prior to the Beholder Mile, Unique Bella traveled outside of California for the first time in her career when shipping to Oaklawn Park for the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1). She ran second in that April 13 event over a good, sealed track.
Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella is the second registered foal out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Unrivaled Belle, who captured the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (G1) over Blind Luck and 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and earned more than $1.8 million during her time on track.
BEHOLDER MILE QUOTES
Mike Smith, jockey Unique Bella, winner
“It was always going to be a little bit of a chess match between me, Vale Dori and Paradise Woods. I was just going to see who broke better than the others and who was going to take the initiative. I was pretty sure that if I got away well, I would go ahead and take it and I figured that Paradise Woods would be the speed today.
“I just have way too much respect for (owner) Don Alberto to let Paradise Woods just take it and Unique Bella doesn’t like it if you take hold of her either. She likes to take it to the competition and sometimes it can hurt you at the end.
“She’s so talented, though, that she puts so much ground between you and the competition that they can’t make it up. You’ve got to literally come home the last quarter in twenty to catch her.
“So there’s some good things about it but if I was able to settle a little more, which I think I would have if Vale Dori got away a little better and went with Paradise Woods, then I would have maybe taken a little hold of her. In saying that though, it’s very dangerous because she’s liable to get very upset.
“She’s very temperamental and you’ve really got to get along with her. Even if I am getting along with her, something else could set her off. The gate could set her off, the ponies tail could swish and hit her…so, you’ve just got to hope everything goes well. They (the gate crew) know her really well here. She’s very unique…Bella.”
Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer Unique Bella, winner
“We expected Paradise Woods to go out there like she did and (jockey) Mike (Smith) didn’t want to let her get away. It’s nice to get her back home and it was nice to have Gary (Stevens) present the trophy.”
Febrizio Buffolo, executive director for owner Don Alberto Stable, Unique Bella, winner
“First and foremost I have to say that the owners came in from Chile this morning and were able to see her for the first time run here in the Beholder and to see their own filly win, and so aggressively, was exciting for them, so I’m very excited as well.
“They wish there were more Grade 1s here at Santa Anita because she loves it here and going two turns here was worth it.
“We’re so pleased with (trainer) Jerry (Hollendorfer) and his team for doing an exceptional job with this mare.”
Drayden Van Dyke, jockey La Force, second
“I kept her back where she was comfortable. They were flying up front and she finished well.”