October 27, 2021

Unique Bella Has Questions To Answer in Apple Blossom at 2-to-5

The 2-to-5 morning line might indicate certainty in champion Unique Bella’s ability to win the Apple Blossom Handicap on Friday at Oaklawn Park, but the Tapit filly has questions to answer if she is to reward her backers with 40 cents on the dollar (at most).

The two biggest questions facing Unique Bella are how she will handle shipping outside her Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s California base for the first time and how she will handle what is likely to be an off track.

Unique Bella has been nearly flawless in the Golden State, winning 7 of 9 starts in her career with the lone losses coming in her career debut and in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. I.e., she is perfect in 3 starts around two turns, which augers well for her 1 1/16-mile journey at Oaklawn where—as the 123-pound highweight—she concedes 6-11 pounds to 6 rivals.

Hollendorfer is no stranger to Oaklawn, having saddled 23 starters in Hot Springs with 5 wins, including Blind Luck in the Fantasy Stakes (also run on Friday). Jockey Mike Smith has had even more success with 5 wins in the Apple Blossom alone: 3 on Azeri and 2 on Zenyatta.

“Mike and I will talk strategy on Friday morning,” Hollendorfer said Thursday afternoon at Oaklawn after Unique Bella schooled in the paddock. “She’s ready to run.”

The other major question is regarding the condition of the track. Unique Bella has never run on an offtrack, though other progeny by her sire Tapit seem to do well, as he has a 17% strike rate with both all dirt starters and all non-fast dirt starters.

“She’ll have no problem with an off track,” Hollendorfer said. “The good ones run on anything.”

Another potential wrinkle showed up on Thursday when Unique Bella had her lone day of training in Hot Springs. She visited the gate and took a long time to load, according to Daily Racing Form’s Jim Dunleavy. She schooled in the paddock during the races and her handlers needed several attempts to coax her into a stall. Hollendorfer said it’s not an issue, and that she would walk the shedrow on race day morning.

The Apple Blossom is the 9th of 10 races on the penultimate day of racing at Oaklawn with a post time of 6:39 p.m. ET.