June 29, 2022

Bellafina regains her swagger in Santa Ynez

Bellafina has posted a 5-4-1-0 record at Santa Anita Park on January 6, 2019 (c) Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com

If anyone doubted that Bellafina’s fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) was too bad to be true, her tour de force in Sunday’s $200,000 Santa Ynez (G2) furnishes the answer. The 2-5 favorite outclassed the small field, in snappy time, to reassert herself as a prime player for the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

Trained by Simon Callaghan and piloted by Flavien Prat, Bellafina appeared to hold the commanding position as she attended Mother Mother early. The start was the only time that favorite backers may have hesitated, for Bellafina was not as swiftly away. But the Kaleem Shah colorbearer took just a few strides to secure the tracking spot, and simply breezed along Mother Mother’s flank through an opening quarter in :22.67. She was soon breathing down her rival’s neck.

The size differential was noticeable, making Bellafina’s ease of travel look all the more ominous as she headed the smaller Mother Mother at the half-mile mark in :45.00. Already under pressure, Mother Mother could no longer match strides with the favorite leaving the far turn.

Bellafina left her standing in the blink of an eye. Five lengths on top in midstretch, she crossed the wire a handy 8 1/2-length winner in 1:22.00 for seven furlongs.

Mother Mother held second by 1 3/4 lengths from Golden Gate shipper Tomlin, who closed from last to take third. There was another 7 1/2-length gap back to Reflect. Sold It trailed after trying to chase the pace.

A Kentucky Oaks scoring race, the Santa Ynez offered points on the familiar 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four. Bellafina, third on the leaderboard, boosted her total to 22. Mother Mother now has 6 points in all, Tomlin was competing in her first points race, and Reflect upped her total to 5.

Bellafina was registering her fourth career win, all in stakes. Second in her unveiling at Los Alamitos, she broke her maiden in the Sorrento (G2) and continued her swath of conquest through the Del Mar Debutante (G1) and Chandelier (G1). Her lone poor effort came in the Breeders’ Cup, where she was discovered to be in season. Her resume reads 6-4-1-0, $708,000.

Bred by JSM Equine in Kentucky, Bellafina RNA’d for $220,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. Shah had to go to $800,000, however, to buy her at Fasig-Tipton’s Gulfstream Sale last March.

Bellafina is a full sister to current multiple stakes winner and Grade 3-placed Diamond King. Both are by Quality Road and out of the Canadian stakes-placed Akron Moon, who is herself a Malibu Moon half to 2018 Hill Prince (G2) hero Have At It. This is the further family of turf champion Johnny D.

If this exceptional Quality Road filly takes Callaghan to Kentucky Oaks glory, it would be poetic justice. He had a future Oaks champion, also by Quality Road, in Abel Tasman, only to lose her to Bob Baffert in the spring of 2017.

Quotes from Santa Anita

Winning rider Flavien Prat: “Coming out of the gate, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew there was speed outside of me. She broke well, relaxed and dropped the bit around the turn and then she took off. The Breeders’ Cup was just a bad day. She had trained well for Simon coming into this and I expected her to run well and she did. She’s definitely improving. She was a little immature before, but today, she improved a lot.”

Trainer Simon Callaghan: “She wasn’t super quick into stride. Flavien didn’t rush her and just let her get comfortable. She pretty much took him to the front. Halfway through, I thought we were doing pretty good.

“I left it to Flavien today. He knows the filly very well. I told him he was on the best filly. He’s such a smart rider and I hate tying people down with instructions in regards to the race. Just let it unfold and get the job done.

“She wasn’t even blowing and was just standing after the race. She was so composed. It was like it was nothing for her. We’ve always thought a lot of her, and have made no secret of that, so it was nice to see her put on that sort of performance.

“After the Breeders’ Cup, Kaleem said to just run her when she’s ready.  I called him a couple weeks ago and told him ‘We have to run her.’  After the disappointment of the Breeders’ Cup, you want to see this sort of a performance.

“We’ve loosely talked about two races before the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) and we’ll see how it comes out. We’re in a good position to now and have the first race of the year under our belt. Kaleem is ultra-patient and we’ll just let the filly tell us the best plan.”

Owner Kaleem Shah: “I’m here to get to a Breeders’ Cup race. I keep telling Simon that. We went in so confident going into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies but it just wasn’t meant to be. It was not her day. Obviously, she needed to come back and show us what she did today, to validate that she’s amongst the best fillies in the country.

On the chances of Bellafina taking on the boys: “For now, we’ll stay with fillies, but we’ll look at everything.”