Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella proved she is the force to be reckoned with down the path to the May 5 Kentucky Oaks (GI) with her 8 ½-length romp in the Las Virgenes Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita. The gray, Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Tapit, though Triple Crown nominated, will more than likely remain on the path toward wearing the blanket of lilies and not face the boys despite her impressive victories, according to her Hall of Fame trainer.
“We’re going to run here,” Jerry Hollendorfer said, referring to the April 8 Santa Anita Oaks (GI). “If we’re fortunate enough to make it to the Kentucky Oaks, then that’s what we’ll do. I’d like to keep her in California just like I did with Songbird. There’s enough money out here to run against the girls, not the boys.
“I have to take [her ability] in stride because you just have to. Songbird won her races by a lot of lengths like this filly does, but I don’t like to compare fillies and I won’t compare those two.”
After her 7 ½-length romp in the Santa Ynez Stakes (GIII) a month ago, Unique Bella’s return to action in the Las Virgenes — and her matchup with champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) winner Champagne Room — was highly anticipated and she didn’t disappoint. Under regular jockey Mike Smith, Unique Bella broke alertly from post four and initially sat off the early pace of :22.82 set by Mopotism, who was racing closest to the rail. Champagne Room also raced up close and next to the frontrunner, while Unique Bella was never more than a length back in third while widest of all and out toward the center of the track around the clubhouse turn.
Apparently feeling that his mount was bored with sitting off the pace, Smith let Unique Bella out a notch as she straightened out for the run up the backstretch and within a few strides had taken command, logging a half-mile in :45.62 while still racing out toward the center of the track. The race was basically over from there as Unique Bella coasted along, slowly extending her lead over the struggling field behind her. After logging three-quarters in 1:10.27 with a 2 ½-length lead, Unique Bella galloped to the wire, stopping the clock in 1:35.66 for the one-mile distance over a fast main track.
“The way she settled, I could have taken her even farther back,” Smith said of Unique Bella’s position early. “At some point you have to let them be who they are and let them do what they’re good at. I just let her do what she wanted to do and she picked it up and was well within herself. It was an amazing race.
“She’s very talented. She created that move down backside until about the quarter-pole and she was well within herself from that point on. It’s crazy how she gets up underneath herself. She’s very athletic. I was really happy with the way she settled. I could have taken her father back; you want to experiment but you don’t want to do something so drastic that you completely throw them off their game. I didn’t want to grab her any harder. She was very happy, she was pricking her ears and having a good time. I was very happy to let her do whatever she wanted after that.”
As 1-9, Unique Bella was good for $2.20 and $2.10, while Mopotism paid $4 (there was no show wagering). The exacta was good for $3.70. Champagne Room and Miss Southern Miss completed the order of finish after Mistressofthenight was withdrawn.
Unique Bella, a daughter of 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (GI) winner Unrivaled Belle, was bred in Pennsylvania by Betty Moran’s Brushwood Stable and was purchased by her current owners, Bethia Holding chairwoman Liliana Solari and her son Carlos Heller, for $400,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2015. In four starts, she’s now earned three wins for earnings of $282,400. Solari and Heller are the driving force behind Don Alberto Stable.
“She’s impressive,” Fernando Diaz-Valdes, Don Alberto racing manger, said. “You never know when you’re going to run with a wonderful champion 2-year-old (Champagne Room). You always have second thoughts, but she proved that she is very good. She was very impressive.
“I think it’s too early to say [whether she should run in the Derby against males]. We’ll have to take a look at what’s happening around the country. We have to go to the next level first. I’m told I should go to the Kentucky Derby, when the time comes, but we’ll see.”