January 20, 2018

Unique Bella an imposing presence in Filly & Mare Sprint

Unique Bella and jockey Mike Smith win the L.A. Woman Stakes (G3) on Sunday, October 8, 2017, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Unique Bella was being pointed toward the Kentucky Oaks (G1) earlier this year and is expected to compete in two-turns events at age 4. But the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) became the goal when the talented 3-year-old filly was sidelined by an injury during the spring and she will make her second start back Saturday as a prohibitive favorite.

The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Unique Bella hasn’t been seriously tested winning her last five starts by a combined 32 lengths and it will be interesting to see how low her actual odds are by post time. Labeled as the most likely winner on the Breeders’ Cup program by many observers, the gray daughter of Tapit has been conservatively pegged as 9-5 morning line favorite over 13 rivals.

Don’t expect that price. Unique Bella returned from a seven-month hiatus with a facile tally in the October 8 L.A. Woman (G3) and drew well in post 11 with regular rider Mike Smith. She figures to be forwardly-placed from the start in the 14-horse field.

Skye Diamonds is listed as the 5-1 second choice following wins in the Great Lady M (G2) and Rancho Bernardo (G3). Freshened 83 days by conditioner Bill Spawr, the California-bred mare starts one spot to the outside of the favorite with Tiago Pereira.

Finley’sluckycharm comes next at 6-1 following a 1 ¾-length tally in the Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) at Keeneland. The 4-year-old filly has won four of five starts this season for Bret Calhoun and finished a half-length second in the La Brea (G1) when shipping to California last December. Brian Hernandez Jr. retains the mount.

Multiple Grade 1 winner Paulassilverlining finished third in the 2016 Filly & Mare Sprint and returns west for Chad Brown as the 8-1 fourth choice on the morning line. The 5-year-old mare edged Finley’sluckycharm when capturing the Honorable Miss (G2) two back but will try to rebound from a disappointing fifth as the favorite in the Ballerina (G1). Jose Ortiz rides.

Ballerina winner By the Moon and 2016 Filly & Mare Sprint heroine Finest City aren’t receiving much respect at 12-1 on the morning line. The top two finishers in the September 24 Gallant Bloom (G2) at Belmont Park, Highway Star and Carina Mia, are also part of the mix. Other notables include Grade 1 scorer Constellation, who has recorded four consecutive runner-up finishes versus graded foes; Presque Isle Masters (G2) victress Ami’s Mesa, who invades from Canada with a four-race win streak; and Princess Rooney (G2) winner Curlin’s Approval.

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