Don Alberto Stable’s champion Unique Bella went straight to the lead and never looked back en route to a nine-length romp in the $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita on Saturday. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee sped through splits of :23.54, :46.80, 1:10.95 and 1:36.49 under regular jockey Mike Smith, drawing away down the lane with each stride to claim the win in a final time of 1:43.45 for the 1/16-mile distance over a fast main track.
At 1-9, Unique Bella was worth just $2.20, $2.10 and $2.10. Second choice Mopotism checked in for second at 6-1 and paid $2.80 and $2.10 while Majestic Heat was third, 1 ¼ lengths behind the runner-up at the wire, and was good for $2.10. The exacta paid $2.60 and the 50-cent trifecta returned $2.15. Shenandoah Queen and Kathy’s Song completed the order of finish.
“We thought we would be on the lead, but Mike [Smith] was talking with me this morning, and we thought that if somebody went real hard or something like that, we’d just try to lay off the pace and see if she would relax,” said Hollendorfer. “But she got out to the lead and was handling the track very well. I think she really got a hold of the track today.
“I think we’ll look at her next race here [the Grade I Santa Margarita on March 17] and try to point for that and then who knows what will happen after that? We’d look at the Apple Blossom [at Oaklawn Park on April 13], but I’d like to stay home if we can.”
Unique Bella, a gray daughter of Tapit and the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (GI) winner Unrivaled Belle who was crowned 2017’s top female sprinter, earned her seventh win from her ninth career start and earned $120,000 to bring her earnings to $712,400. She also won five graded stakes last year, including the La Brea Stakes (GI) on Dec. 26.
“I really don’t think we’ve seen how good she can be,” Smith said. “I’ve surely seen how easily she’s doing things right now, which I think is extremely impressive. I truly believe we haven’t gotten to the bottom of it. There could even be more to her. I’m excited to see what the future holds for her, I really am. There are some different things we can do with her because of her size. She probably can step up to the boys at some point, who knows because she’s just not a one-gutted kind of filly. She’s got a lot to her. She’s built more like a colt.”
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.