Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella returned a winner on Saturday in the $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.
The gray daughter of Tapit was making her four-year-old bow in the 1 1/16-mile contest under regular rider Mike Smith as well as her first start since being honored with an Eclipse Award as the 2017 champion female sprinter.
Unique Bella headed straight to the front and never looked back, establishing fractions of :22.58, :47.75, 1:10.11 and 1:21.77. The Jerry Hollendorfer pupil easily pulled clear of Majestic Heat, who attempted to go with the filly entering the first turn but was settled into a tracking spot in second about three wide down the backstretch.
Exiting the final bend, Unique Bella continued opening up on her rivals with Smith sitting chilly in the saddle. Never seeming to break out of a gallop, she crossed under the wire nine lengths clear to stop the clock in 1:43.45 over the fast dirt.
Unique Bella was the 1-10 prohibitive choice against her four rivals and returned $2.20. Mopotism took second by 1 1/4 lengths over Majestic Heat, defeating that foe for the second straight time after winning the January 13 La Canada Stakes (G2) last out with Majestic Heat back in fifth that day. Shenandoah Queen was fourth in the Santa Maria, 9 1/2 lengths adrift of Majestic Heat, and Kathy’s Song brought up the rear, another 16 lengths behind.
Unique Bella may have been named the champion female sprinter, but the gray lass has never had trouble going long. After finishing second in her June 2016 debut, she returned in November of that year at Del Mar to break her maiden by 10 lengths and begin a five-race win streak that included the 2017 editions of the seven-furlong Santa Ynez Stakes (G2), one-mile Las Virgenes Stakes (G2), 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) and 6 1/2-furong L.A. Woman Stakes (G3).
The four-year-old lass was forced to the sidelines after her Santa Ysabel run last year due to shin issues, missing her early target of the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and the entire summer season. She easily scored in her L.A. Woman return on October 8 but tired to seventh, the first unplaced finish of her career, next out in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).
Unique Bella refused to let her sophomore campaign end on a down note, returning December 26 to take the seven-furlong La Brea Stakes (G1) to conclude 2017 in the winner’s circle. Saturday’s Santa Maria victory improved her scorecard 9-7-1-0 and she’s banked $712,400 lifetime.
Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stables, Unique Bella is out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Unrivalled Belle, who captured the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) and earned more than $1.8 million while on track.
SANTA MARIA QUOTES
Mike Smith, jockey Unique Bella, winner
“I really don’t think we’ve seen how good she can be. I’ve surely seen how easily she’s doing things right now which I think is extremely impressive. I truly believe we haven’t gotten to the bottom of it. There could even be more to her. I’m excited to see what the future holds for her, I really am. There are some different things we can do with her too because of her size. She probably can step up to the boys at some point. Who knows because she’s not just a one-gutted kind of filly. She’s got a lot to her. She’s built more like a colt.”
Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer Unique Bella, winner
“We thought we would be on the lead, but Mike (Smith) was talking with me this morning, and we thought that if somebody went real hard or something like that we’d just try to lay off the pace and see if she would relax, but she got out to the lead and was handling the track very well. I think she really got a hold of the track today.
“I think we’ll look at the next race here ($400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes [G1] going 1 1/8 miles on March 17) and try to point for that, and then who knows what will happen after that? We’ll look at the Santa Margarita for sure. There are other races around the same time. We’d look at the ($700,000) Apple Blossom (going 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park on April 13), but I’d like to stay home if we can.”
Febrizio Buffolo, executive director of owner Don Alberto Stable, Unique Bella, winner
“It’s up in the air, but I think the logical thing to do would be to run in the Santa Margarita. We’ll keep her at two turns. Jerry said she was going to run a big race, but not this big.”
A little over a half-hour later at Santa Anita, the Sareen Family Trust’s Om produced a wire-to-wire score of his own in the $100,345 Thunder Road Stakes (G3).
Flavien Prat was aboard the Dan Hendricks-trained six-year-old for the first time on Saturday, and changed tactics when sending the chestnut from the very beginning. Om opened up by seven lengths on the backstretch while setting splits of :22.58 and :45.75, but suddenly found company as Bowies Hero and Blackjackcat came charging up to his outside entering the final turn.
It appeared as though either one of those would sweep on by the son of Munnings, but Om wasn’t done yet. Bowies Hero continued motoring, but Om lowered his head and dug deep, repelling that rival to secure a half-length victory in a final time of 1:33.54 for a mile on the firm turf.
The change in rider and tactics saw Om return to the winner’s circle for the first time since capturing the 2015 Mathis Brothers Mile (G2). He was sent off the 9-2 third choice in the Thunder Road and paid $11.40.
Bowies Hero held second by a head from a flying Next Shares, who was 2 3/4 lengths up on Tequila Joe on the wire. Blackjackcat, the even-money favorite after finishing third last out in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), faded to fifth here, 3 3/4 lengths in front of last-place runner Ohio.
Om joined the millionaire’s club with the Thunder Road win, as the $60,000 winner’s share boosted his career earnings to $1,001,645. His record stands at 23-6-5-6, including scores in the 2015 editions of the Del Mar Derby (G2) and Twilight Derby (G2). The chestnut has also placed in 11 graded contests, including the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) and 2015 Hollywood Derby (G1).
Bred in Kentucky by Lavin Bloodstock, Bernie Sams and William S. Farish Jr., Om is out of the Tabasco Cat mare Rare Cat, making him a half-brother to stakes-placed winners Bear Dixiecat and Twirling Tiger. Rare Cat is herself a half-sister to Grade 3 hero Rare Rock and Grade 2-placed Adams Trail, and this female family also includes Grade 1 victor Spellbound.
THUNDER ROAD QUOTES
Flavien Prat, jockey Om, winner
“He ran an incredible race. Once he got in the lead I was able to just let him go. Had great speed and I knew that once we got on the inside he would just carry it through. He remained calm and was able to hold them off. He’s incredibly fast and I just let him work.”
Corey Nakatani, jockey Bowies Hero, second
“He just ran dynamite. I just want to thank the partners for giving me a chance to ride him. He’s such a nice horse. Om is a very talented horse. Flavien just let him get out there in that high-cruising speed and he was able to hold us off. I was hoping that we had a little more tactical speed in the race to be able to put pressure on him but when I came to him, I wanted to make sure that he had to get him going and use him a little. He did and on the day he just beat us on the square but we’ll get him next time.”
Dan Hendricks, trainer Om, winner
“Once entries were taken and we had the outside post, and there wasn’t a dominant speed horse in there like there’s been in all his races recently, we decided to just go ahead and get him on the lead like he’s very comfortable doing.
“I was worried more at the half-mile pole than I was at the quarter-pole because he had gotten a little rank on (jockey) Flavien (Prat) after he got him out there that quickly. He opened up a bigger lead than you ever want to open up, but he got him to relax great down the backside, and when they started to come to him at the quarter-pole, you could tell he had a lot left, so I felt more comfortable then than I did at the half-mile pole.
“The ($400,000 Frank E.) Kilroe (Mile [G1] mile on turf March 10) has always been our objective since after the Breeders’ Cup. That’s why I didn’t give him the break in January like I did in the previous years.”
Mark Glatt, trainer Blackjackcat, fifth
“He was flat. We’re just gonna have to regroup here and make sure everything’s okay.”