Bloodlines: Unlikely Story Of How Unique Bella Nearly Slipped Through The Cracks

by | 06.05.2018 | 12:41pm
Don Alberto's Unique Bella added to her credentials with a win in the Grade 1 Beholder Mile

Sometimes, breeding top-class horses looks so easy. Just take three-time leading sire Tapit (by Pulpit) and breed him to a mare who won the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and there you have it, champion Unique Bella, who won the Eclipse Award as the best sprint filly of 2017.

Doesn't that look simple?

Unique Bella makes it look easy, but breeding a champion is rarely that way. All the pieces of the great bloodstock puzzle have to fall the right way, and then a good mental attitude, good training, good health, and a sizable dose of good fortune may allow the young athlete to show its ability.

Unique Bella, for instance, is the second foal of her dam, the gray Unbridled's Song mare Unrivaled Belle, a Grade 1 stakes winner of $1,854,706. The mare's first foal, a filly by leading sire Medaglia d'Oro named Meseika, has not raced. The mare's third foal, a filly by leading sire Malibu Moon named Relicario, has not hit the board in six starts in Japan and has earned only a little more than 1 percent of her purchase price of $550,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale.

On the other hand, Unique Bella has won 8 of 11 starts, with two G1 victories, and has earned $1,092,400.

As a producer, however, Unrivaled Belle is doing better than average. About 60 percent of foals each year make it to the races, and the producer has 67 percent with her two from three. Slightly more than 40 percent of all foals win races, and to this point, Unrivaled Belle is behind par with 33 percent.

The big marker, of course, is the production of stakes winners, which is about 3 percent of all foals annually. Unrivaled Belle is perched loftily 11 times higher than that statistic, with 33 percent stakes winners and that one being a G1 winner and champion.

The mare doesn't have a 2-year-old; so these general statistics won't change soon.

Unrivaled Belle has long been considered an elite horse. As a broodmare prospect at the 2011 Keeneland November sale, the G1-winning gray sold for $2.8 million to Brushwood Stable.

Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella sold for $400,000 as a yearling at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling auction. That price was $190,000 less than Tapit's yearling average that year of $590,000.

Reiley McDonald from Eaton Sales, which consigned Unique Bella, said that “we had nearly 150 lookers at Unique Bella, but we had only one bidder that made one bid. That was Don Alberto.

“When the filly was in the ring and not making a lot of money, they sent a fellow to ask about her vet work, which was entirely clean, and they managed to get one bid in before the bidding stopped, because that was her reserve.

“They were thinking quick on their feet, and they bought one of the best racehorses in training today.”

Quick thinking from the Don Alberto group landed them a sales coup. From a brief juvenile campaign of two starts, Unique Bella emerged as a winner and then began her climb through her 3-year-old season that made her champion sprint filly last season.

The year after Unique Bella sold as a yearling, Eaton Sales consigned Unrivaled Belle to the Keeneland November sale in foal to Tapit on a Feb. 20 cover, and the gray mare brought $3.8 million from Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm, and Whisper Hill is the breeder of the mare's yearling full sister and 2018 full brother to Unique Bella.

Repeating the cross with Tapit that worked so fortuitously with Unique Bella was obviously going to be a strong interest for owner-breeder Pope, who has purchased such top-end broodmares at Havre de Grace, Plum Pretty, and Songbird, as well as Rhumb Line, the dam of G1 winner Zazu, by Gainesway Farm's premier stallion, Tapit.

Gainesway's Michael Hernon saw Unique Bella schooling at the gate and said, “Unique Bella is a big, strapping filly. She has good bone and height, as you'd expect from a filly out of an Unbridled's Song mare, and she is maturing mentally. That gate work seems to have paid off because she broke flawlessly from the gate in the Beholder.”

Big filly, big speed, big talent. And now she's a big draw for the sport wherever she starts.

Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in Central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.

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