Don Alberto Stable’s talented sophomore filly Unique Bella was challenged by G1 winner Abel Tasman in Saturday’s G3 Santa Ysabel Stakes, but after some encouragement from jockey Mike Smith the daughter of Tapit drew away to win by about three lengths. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Unique Bella covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 over Santa Anita’s fast main track to earn another 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
“It was pretty eventful,” Smith said. “Sometimes you just stay out of the way of the good ones and they’ll run for you. That’s pretty much what I did today…I was blessed enough to be able to lead my way out.”
Unique Bella broke a bit slowly, and was fourth heading into the first turn along the rail. Tap It All had the lead briefly, but Unique Bella refused to settle at the rail and Smith allowed her to make up nearly four lengths to take over the lead entering the backstretch. The first quarter of 23.35 seconds was much quicker for Unique Bella due to that move, but she kept up the solid pace, marking the half in :46.23 and three-quarters in 1:10.70. Abel Tasman, meanwhile, was tracking the pace from fifth, nearly eight lengths off the leader.
Unique Bella’s lead began to decrease entering the stretch, as Smith had yet to ask anything of her, and a strong-charging Abel Tasman was able to reach Unique Bella’s hip at the three-sixteenths pole. Smith had to tap Unique Bella left-handed several times, and while her momentum was slow in coming, the filly was able to repel the G1 winner’s challenge effectively, drawing away to win by about three lengths. Abel Tasman was game in second, and Spooky Woods was third.
“She’s been coming along quite well, we’re real happy with her. She didn’t get away great today, but we’ll fix that,” said Hollendorfer. “We have a very talented filly and we’d like to look at the Kentucky Oaks. We like to take one step at a time. We’d like to go for the Santa Anita Oaks, and if we win or do well, then we’ll try to go to Kentucky.”
Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella was a $ 400,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase. She finished second in her career debut, but hasn’t been beaten since, now the winner of three graded stakes in a row to confirm her early favoritism for the Kentucky Oaks. Overall, Unique Bella has won four of five starts for earnings of $ 340,000.
Watch the race replay here:
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