February 9, 2023

Paradise Woods, Unique Bella square off in La Brea

Paradise Woods and jockey Flavien Prat wire the Zenyatta Stakes (G1) on Saturday, September 30, 2017, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Though both were pointing for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) earlier this year, Paradise Woods and Unique Bella missed out on running against each other. The talented duo even ended up in different Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar.

The separation has come to an end, though as Tuesday, the traditional day-after Christmas opening day at Santa Anita Park, will see the pair square off in the $300,000 La Brea Stakes (G1) as part of an eight-filly field going seven furlongs.

Paradise Woods probably lost out on champion three-year-old honors when finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), three lengths behind fellow sophomore filly and Distaff runner-up Abel Tasman. She entered that contest in a prime spot to claim the Eclipse Award following a romping, wire-to-wire, 5 1/4-length victory in the Zenyatta Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita.

That was the Union Rags filly’s first win since an 11 3/4-length domination over Abel Tasman in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) earlier this year in March. Paradise Woods was unable to factor in either the Kentucky Oaks or Torrey Pines Stakes (G3) in her next pair, but rebounded in a big way to take the Zenyatta for trainer Richard Mandella. Jockey Flavien Prat has been aboard for all seven of Paradise Woods’ efforts and has the call once again on Tuesday.

Unique Bella was perfect in four starts this year before trying the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) last out with just one race under her girth since March.

Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, the gray lass broke her maiden by 10 1/4 lengths at Del Mar last November in her second start. She romped by 7 1/2 lengths in the Santa Ynez Stakes (G3) in her season opener at Santa Anita Park and proceeded to add effortless wins in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) and Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) to her resume. Those races were all leading up to the Kentucky Oaks on May 5 at Churchill Downs, but Unique Bella suffered a shin issue not long after the Santa Ysabel and was sidelined until October, when she returned to take the L.A. Woman Stakes (G3) by 3 1/2 lengths.

She filled the seventh spot in the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar on November 4, but could close out her three-year-old campaign on a winning note in this spot with regular rider Mike Smith aboard.

Mopotism is seeking a first graded triumph after dropping her last three against top-level Grade 1 rivals. The Doug O’Neill pupil broke her maiden last December one race after finishing third in the Starlet Stakes (G1) at Los Alamitos. She followed her maiden score with a runner-up effort in the Las Virgenes, then broke through on the stakes level with a three-quarter length victory in the Island Fashion Stakes. After a pair of unplaced runs in the Santa Anita Oaks and Kentucky Oaks, the Uncle Mo filly just missed by a head in the Summertime Oaks (G2) and a length in the Indiana Oaks (G3).

Mopotism was no match for the runners in the Alabama Stakes (G1), Cotillion Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in her last trio of efforts, but has a better chance in the La Brea with Mario Gutierrez taking back the mount.

Miss Sunset brings a three-race win streak into the La Brea, including a half-length victory in the Raven Run Stakes (G2) last out at Keeneland for trainer Jeff Bonde. The Into Mischief filly was making her graded bow in that spot and also her first start outside of California. Though she’s competed at Santa Anita, Miss Sunset has yet to score on the track’s dirt, missing by a half-length in the Melair Stakes, finishing third in the Evening Jewel Stakes and throwing in a subpar last-of-six in an off-the-turf allowance/optional claimer to kick off her sophomore campaign in January. The bay lass, who has finished worse than third only twice in her 11-race career, breaks from the inside Tuesday under jockey Julien Leparoux.

Like Unique Bella, Princess Karen is also exiting the Filly & Mare Sprint, finishing fifth that day following a runner-up effort behind that same rival in the L.A. Woman. The Bonde-trained daughter of Stay Thirsty captured the Beverly J. Lewis Stakes on September 9 at Los Alamitos in front-running style four months after fading to fifth in the Angel Flight Stakes one race prior. The bay miss earned career-high 97 BRIS Speed figures in her last pair and gets Kent Desormeaux, aboard for the Lewis and L.A. Woman, back for piloting duties.

Faypien finished third in her career debut at Santa Anita on March 11 before going on a three-race winning skein that included the Summertime Oaks and Angels Flight Stakes. The Bob Baffert charge hasn’t visited the winner’s circle that latter contest, but has also only made two starts since. The Ghostzapper filly ran second in the Test Stakes (G1) at Saratoga in early August, then filled that same spot in the Beverly J. Lewis Stakes at Los Alamitos last out on September 9. Drayden Van Dyke will be in the irons for the first time as Faypien takes a step up off that event.

Marley’s Freedom makes her stakes debut in the La Brea following a 4 1/4-length win against allowance/optional claiming rivals at Del Mar on November 19. That was only the second score by the Blame sophomore, who broke her maiden for trainer Bob Hess Jr. on September 4 at that track. The bay sophomore sandwiched a close second in a Santa Anita Park allowance/optional claimer between those two efforts, and has been training over the track since early December. Javier Castellano has the call here.

Just a Little Hope also will be trying stakes foes for the initial time in this race. She broke her maiden in May at Santa Anita and captured an allowance/optional claimer three races later in October. The closer goes here off a rallying second against similar just 18 days later. Trained by Dan Hendricks, the Flatter filly will be wearing blinkers and gets the services of jockey Gary Stevens.