April 18, 2024

Unique Bella unbeatable in Santa Ynez

Unique Bella and jockey Mike Smith win the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) on Sunday, January 8, 2017, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella showed just how unique she was with a 7 1/2-length victory while making her stakes debut in Sunday’s $200,000 Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.

The race, which offered the top four finishers 10-4-2-1 points toward a starting berth in this year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1), saw nearly half the field scratch. Nine were entered but Noted and Quoted, Sandy’s Surprise, Go On Mary and Carrie were all scratched.

That didn’t matter to Unique Bella, who stalked the early pace of :22.33 and :44.58 set by Resilient Humor while four wide. Jockey Mike Smith sent the gray daughter of Tapit nearing the turn and she easily ranged up on the outside of the leader, Shane’s Girlfriend and Princess Karen.

Unique Bella took command rounding the turn and opened up by five lengths in the lane. Smith let the Jerry Hollendorfer pupil cruise home under her own power, and the sophomore miss finished seven furlongs over the fast track in 1:22.21.

“She was a little aggressive in the gate and she was off a tad slow. I probably could have moved her, set her up a bit differently in order for her to break better, but I was scared to do that and make her react and do something I wouldn’t want her to do,” Smith explained.

“When I saw everyone else send, I thought it was a good time to take a hold of her and see what happens. It didn’t seem to bother her. When we hit the far turn, it was like she was breathing different air.

“The decisions I make are quick, but you have to make it all seem casual,” he added. Otherwise, it gets to be too quick, too fast and you can react too quickly yourself and make matters worse. You have to always be prepared for Plan B and Plan C if need be.

“Now, it’s more reasonable to compare her (to champion Songbird). Again, she’s very, very talented but with room to grow. Hopefully with each step, she’ll get smarter about certain things. I’m just blessed, that’s all I can say.”

Unique Bella was making just her third career start in this spot. She finished second in her debut at Santa Anita going five furlongs last June and broke her maiden last out by 10 lengths at Del Mar on November 26. This victory not only gave her 10 points toward starting berth in the Kentucky Oaks but also boosted her lifetime earnings to $162,400.

“Well, I’ve always liked her. Today, she showed that she’s brilliant,” Hollendorfer admitted. “We thought she’d jump out of there a little better. I thought she would be close to the lead. Mike used his judgement, got behind and then got to the outside so it worked out well.

“We’ll relax a little bit and see where we go next. We purposely waited this long with her and pointed towards this race. I don’t know if we’ve seen all there is to Unique Bella but I’ll ask Mike.”

Unique Bella led home a one-two finish for Hollendorfer as stablemate It Tiz Well proved best of the rest in second. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to third-placer Shane’s Girlfriend, while Princess Karen and Resilient Humor completed the order under the wire.

“Our other filly (It Tiz Well) also got Grade 2-placed, so we’re very pleased right now,” Hollendorfer said.

Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella is out of Unrivaled Belle, winner of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) over champion Blind Luck and the next season’s Horse of the Year, Havre de Grace.