February 20, 2024

Unique Bella easily repels Abel Tasman’s challenge in Santa Ysabel

Unique Bella, with Mike Smith up, wins the Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer at Santa Anita Park (c) Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com

For the first time since making her career debut at Santa Anita Park last June 23, Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella was actually forced to run in the stretch of Saturday’s $100,345 Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3).

Jockey Mike Smith, who had merely been a passenger in her past three races, pulled the whip in the lane when Abel Tasman rallied to draw close. However, it took just a few waves of the stick for Unique Bella to open up once again and she proceeded to pull off for the 2 1/4-length victory.

Unique Bella broke a step slow and found herself tight in between rivals rounding the first turn. She accelerated and ranged up outside of Tap It All, who set the first split in :23.35. Easily taking command, Unique Bella led the rest of the way home through splits of :46.23, 1:10.70 and 1:36.73.

Stopping the clock in 1:43.11 for the 1 1/16-mile feature over Santa Anita’s fast dirt, Unique Bella paid $2.20 as the prohibitive 1-10 favorite. She earned 50 points toward a starting berth in the May 5 Kentucky Oaks (G1), as the Santa Ysabel is part of the Championship portion of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series of points races and awarded 50-20-10-5 points to the top four.

Abel Tasman took home the second-place tally of 20 points for finishing eight lengths in front of Spooky Woods, who earned 10 points. Mistressofthenight completed the superfecta, good for five points and was followed under the wire by What What What and Tap It All.

Unique Bella improved her record to 5-4-1-0 and has banked $342,400 in lifetime earnings. After running second in her career opener, the gray daughter of Tapit broke her maiden by 10 lengths and followed up with a 7 1/2-length score to open her sophomore campaign in the January 8 Santa Ynez Stakes (G2). She entered the Santa Ysabel off an 8 3/4-length wire job in the February 5 Las Virgenes Stakes (G2).

Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella is 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.

SANTA YSABEL QUOTES

Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer Unique Bella, winner

“She’s been coming along quite well, we’re real happy with her. She didn’t get away great today, but we’ll fix that.

“Yes, the (April 8) Santa Anita Oaks (G1) is our next (Kentucky Oaks) point race. It’s a perfect progression.

“We have a very talented filly and we’d like to look at the (May 5) Kentucky Oaks (G1). We like to take one step at a time. We’d like to go for the Santa Anita Oaks, and if we win or do well, then we’ll try to go to Kentucky.

“It’s a great honor to be considered the front runner for the Kentucky Oaks. We’re blessed to have good horses so I feel really grateful to have a horse like Unique Bella and equally as grateful for Songbird last year.

“We’re just trying to do our best and she’s rewarding us.

“I don’t have any thoughts about running her against the boys, but some other folk’s do I guess.

“When I saw her come into the lane I felt that she was waiting on horses a little bit. Mike had to wave the stick at her a little but she responded right away. I wasn’t too worried.

“I was wondering if Mike would stay on the rail or get out in the open and he chose to get out in the open.

“I hope they don’t have to match up this year (Songbird and Unique Bella.) I had enough match up with Beholder. That was a pretty good match-up.”

Fernando Diaz-Valdes, racing manager for Unique Bella’s owner, Don Alberto Stable

“When we got to the stretch Mike told me he was looking around but when he asked her she immediately answered. It was a little slow. I would think the pace would have been a little bit faster. I was expecting more speed. Finally, it’s one step closer with what we want to do with her. I think Santa Anita Oaks for sure.”

Mike Smith, jockey Unique Bella, winner

“It was pretty eventful. Sometimes you just stay out of the way of the good ones and they’ll run for you. That’s pretty much what I did today…I was blessed enough to be able to lead my way out.”

Joe Talamo, jockey Abel Tasman, second

“Turning for home I had a lot of horse under me. Hats off to the winner, what a special filly she is, because like I said I really had a lot of horse and we had a beautiful trip. The winner broke a little slow which I was happy to see. I was so proud of my filly. I think she’s definitely going to move forward from here.”