Jerry Hollendorfer’s newest superstar, 3-year-old filly Unique Bella, overcame a good dose of adversity in winning Saturday’s Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, winning her third consecutive graded stakes and her fourth race in a row under Mike Smith.
Slower into stride than is her custom, the Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Tapit was quickly into contention while third at the rail into the Club House turn. At that point, Smith made the tactical decision to split horses at the seven furlong pole and Unique Bella then took command, but had to repel a serious challenge a furlong out from runner-up Abel Tasman, who was ridden by Joe Talamo.
“Hats off to the winner, what a special filly she is, because like I said, I really had a lot of horse and we had a beautiful trip,” said Talamo, currently fifth in the rider standings with 18 wins. “The winner broke a little slow, which I was happy to see. I was so proud of my filly. I think she’s definitely going to move forward.”
Despite repeated media queries regarding the possibility of her stepping onto the Santa Anita and Kentucky Derby trail, Hollendorfer was again steadfast in his resolve to get Unique Bella to the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks on April 8, with the next objective the Grade I Kentucky Oaks on May 5.
“We’re just trying to do our best and she’s rewarding us,” said Hollendorfer following yesterday’s Santa Ysabel. “I don’t have any thoughts about running her against the boys, but some other folks do I guess. When I saw her coming into the lane, I felt that she was waiting on horses a little bit. Mike had to wave the stick at her a little but she responded right away. I wasn’t too worried.”
So the stage is nearly set for Hollendorfer, who won last year’s Santa Anita Oaks with two-time Eclipse Champion Songbird, to pursue his second consecutive victory in the race originally known as the Santa Susana.
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