September 19, 2021

Unique Bella towers over Las Virgenes foes

Don Alberto Stable's Unique Bella and jockey Mike Smith win the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) on Sunday, February 5, 2017, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO
Unique Bella, Mike Smith up, wins the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Santa Anita Park, CA 2.05.2017 (c) Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephtos.com

Only four fillies lined up in Sunday’s $196,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park, but 14 fillies showing up likely still wouldn’t have made a difference to the outcome.

An outcome that saw 1-10 prohibitive favorite Unique Bella romp in what turned out to be nothing more than a paid workout.

As she did in the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) on January 8, Unique Bella found herself stalking the early pace as Mopotism broke on top to record the first quarter in :22.82. Mike Smith sat chilly the entire way on Unique Bella, including when her tracking pace overcame Mopotism’s efforts to stay on top.

The Tapit filly flowed right on by the leader and lengthened her advantage with every stride while setting splits of :45.62, 1:10.27 and 1:22.71. Unique Bella was clear by 8 3/4 lengths on the wire having never seemed to come out of a gallop, and stopped the clock in 1:35.66 over the fast main track. The gray miss paid $2.20.

Mopotism found herself displaced not just from the lead but from second as well during the race as champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Champagne Room stuck her head in front on the backstretch run. The early pacesetter fought back in the stretch, though, and ended up taking second after all. Champagne Room finished another 1 1/4 lengths back in third while Miss Southern Miss was distanced throughout the race and was 11 1/2 lengths behind on the wire.

The Las Virgenes is part of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series of points races and awarded points on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the top four, which encompassed the entire field with the scratch of Mistressofthenight. Unique Bella moved to third on the Kentucky Oaks Leaderboard with 20 total points while Champagne Room just barely holds on to the top spot with 23 points.

Unique Bella is now 4-3-1-0 lifetime and has banked $282,400 in earnings. She dropped her career debut, running second last June 23 at Santa Anita Park, before wiring a Del Mar maiden special weight by 10 lengths on November 26. The Pennsylvania-bred lass made her three-year-old and stakes debut in the Santa Ynez last out, where she circled the dueling leaders four wide and flew home for the 7 1/2-length victory.

Bred by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella was purchased for $400,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. She is out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Unrivaled Belle, who captured the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) over champion Blind Luck and eventual Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.

LAS VIRGENES QUOTES

Mike Smith, jockey Unique Bella, winner

“The way she settled, I could have taken her even farther back. At some point you have to let them be who they are; let them do what they’re good at. I just let her do what she wanted to do and she picked it up and was well within herself. It was an amazing race.

“She’s very talented. She created that move down the backside until about the quarter pole and she was well within herself from that point on. Honestly, even then and I didn’t want her to, but she switched to her right lead and it took her there.

“It’s crazy how she gets up underneath herself. She’s very athletic. I was really happy with the way that she settled. I could have taken her farther back. You want to experiment but you don’t want to do something so drastic that you completely throw them off their game. I didn’t want to grab her any harder. She was very happy. She was pricking her ears and having a good time. I was very happy to let her do whatever she wanted to do after that.

“She’s quick if I want her to be and she doesn’t have to be on the lead. If you’re always out front, someone’s is going to take a shot at you, go at you hard. Now I know that if someone wants to do that, I can settle.”

Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer Unique Bella, winner

“You never expect that (winning as easily as she did), but I was pretty confident when Mike kind of made his move early. I knew that he knew he had a lot of horse, so he just went for it and it turned out well. She did settle, and the reason she went was Mike felt like he had a lot of horse. So when he did that, I felt pretty confident that she would really lay it down.”

As to running against males: “I really like to concentrate on the filly races. If an opportunity came to do something else we’d probably have to consider that, but I’d like to keep her against the fillies if I can.

“I’d like to keep her in California (for the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks [G1] at 1 1/16 miles on April 8), just like I did with Songbird last year. There’s enough money to run out here and run against the girls, not the boys. I think we’ll try and run here and if we’d be fortunate enough, we’d point to the (May 5 Kentucky) Oaks (G1).

“I have to take it (her ability) in stride, because you just have to. Songbird won her races by a lot of lengths like this filly does, but I don’t like to compare fillies and I won’t compare those two.”

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

“She’s impressive. You never know when you’re going to run with a wonderful champion two-year-old. You always have second thoughts, but she proved that she is very good. She was very impressive.

“I think it’s too early to say (whether they would consider a run against males to gain Kentucky Derby [G1] qualifying points). We’ll have to take a look at what’s happening around the country. We have to go to the next level first…I’m told I should go to the Kentucky Derby, when the time comes, but we’ll see.”