May 20, 2019

Bellafina holds on in Las Virgenes

Bellafina triumphs in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park under jockey Flavien Prat on February 9, 2019 (c) Benoit Photo

The odds made Saturday’s $200,000 Las Virgenes (G2) look like a one-filly show, but 1-9 favorite Bellafina had to dig deeper than expected to prevail in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) scoring race.

Bet down off a dazzling comeback in the Santa Ynez (G2), the multiple Grade 1 star also attracted attention recently for her nomination to the Triple Crown. Owner Kaleem Shah and trainer Simon Callaghan were already inclined to keep Bellafina in the three-year-old filly division, with the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) the far likelier target than the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and Saturday’s result figures to ratify the original agenda.

The Las Virgenes didn’t exactly unfold according to plan. With the speedy Mother Mother putting the blinkers back on for Bob Baffert, she shaped as the logical pacesetter. But when no one ventured to go forward, Bellafina’s regular rider, Flavien Prat, called the audible and let her use her early speed.

Bellafina then became the hunted instead of the hunter. Mother Mother, who’d wilted under Bellafina’s pressure in the Santa Ynez, was the one pressing the issue here through fractions of :23.13 and :46.33. That was testing enough for the one-mile trip, especially on a Santa Anita track rated “good.” The change of tactics did not help Mother Mother, who could not maintain her position at the six-furlong mark in 1:10.31.

Although Bellafina put away her tiring pursuer and edged clear in upper stretch, she too was feeling the effects of her exertions. Instead of drawing off as in the seven-furlong Santa Ynez, the favorite was treading water.

Trying to capitalize on Bellafina’s sudden vulnerability was Enaya Alrabb. The 6-1 second choice after her near-miss in the Starlet (G1), Enaya Alrabb stayed on inside the final furlong and reduced the deficit.

Bellafina, toting the top weight of 124 pounds, kept finding enough to hold her off by three-quarters of a length. She needed :13.01 to negotiate her final furlong and polish off the mile in 1:35.99.

Adding 10 Oaks points to increase her total to 32, Bellafina has overtaken champion Jaywalk at the top of the leaderboard. Enaya Alrabb doubled her tally to 8 points overall. The 19-1 Calf Moon Bay rallied from last for third, picking up 2 points in her stakes debut. Mother Mother wound up fourth, good for 1 point to bring up her total to 7. The 33-1 longest shot on the board, Tomlin, was a long-way last.

Bellafina now sports a mark of 7-5-1-0, $828,000. An imperious winner of last year’s Del Mar Debutante (G1), Chandelier (G1), and Sorrento (G2), the bay was in season when a subpar fourth to Jaywalk in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). She roared back in the January 6 Santa Ynez and made it two straight in the Las Virgenes.

Bred by JSM Equine in Kentucky, Bellafina RNA’d for $220,000 as a Keeneland September yearling but commanded $800,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Gulfstream Sale. She is yet another high-profile campaigner for sire Quality Road. Her dam, the stakes-placed Malibu Moon mare Akron Moon, is also responsible for multiple Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Diamond King, a full brother to Bellafina. Second dam Akronism, a multiple Grade 3 victress, produced last season’s Hill Prince (G2) scorer Have At It. Further back, this is the family of champion grass horse Johnny D.

Quotes from Santa Anita

Winning trainer Simon Callaghan: “I wasn’t surprised to see her on the lead. When you’re 1-9, you just do what you’ve got to do. I think the fractions were pretty legit on a slightly sticky track…She did what she had to do and it’s great to get the win. I was a worried a little that she was in front, but I left it to Flavien (Prat), because horses had been closing today and winning, so we may have won despite the bias. I think maybe that’s why the horse (Enaya Alrabb) was finishing so well at the end.

“We’ll enjoy this and take a deep breath. It’s never easy, but we got the win. I think we’ll definitely go on from here to the (Santa Anita) Oaks (April 6). She did what she had to do today. I think the track’s been favoring horses coming off the pace and it’s a little bit sticky. They went legit (fractions). Mother Mother’s a good filly and she fell away to fourth, so I think it was a good performance.

“When you’re 1-9, maybe people expect you to win by a long distance, but when that other filly came to him, he (Prat) was always confident he was going to hold her off. I left it to Flavien. I actually thought we’d sort of let Mother Mother go and be outside of her…but you can’t be critical of a win. We got the job done and that was always the plan, to get two races before the Santa Anita Oaks and we’ll give her a little freshening and look forward to that.”

Winning rider Flavien Prat: “She was good, as always. I thought Mother Mother would show more speed with the blinkers, but it seemed like everybody was waiting and watching me, so I tried to bide my time and wait as long as I could…As soon as she saw that filly (runner-up Enaya Alrabb), she re-engaged.”

Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith on runner-up Elnaya Alrabb: “She ran too good to lose. I had a good chance, but those champions, you gotta really run to beat them. I think if we take the blinkers off, she’ll give us what she’s got when we need it. It’s in there.”

Bellafina’s owner Kaleem Shah: “The track was a little sticky and I don’t think it was the best surface for her, but that last quarter, I think her class pulled her through…We know now she can be on the lead.

“My daughter Sophie is here, who just got engaged. Her fiancé, Nick, is here today as well and it’s his first time to Santa Anita so this is a joyous win for all of us.”