Unique Bella, America's reigning Eclipse Champion Female Sprinter, towers over four rivals in Saturday's Grade II, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile and one sixteenth.
A striking 4-year-old filly by Tapit, Unique Bella comes off one of the best races of her career, a gutty three quarter length win in the Grade I, seven furlong La Brea Stakes here on Dec. 26. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Don Alberto Stable, Unique Bella has been favored in seven out of her eight starts and has won six of them.
Fresh off a head victory going a flat mile in the Grade II La Canada Stakes Jan. 13, Reddam Racing's Mopotism will be tasked with keeping front-running Unique Bella honest in the early stages of the Santa Maria.
Owner: Don Alberto Stable Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer
Although she had a five-game winning streak snapped when well beaten as the even money favorite in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint two starts back on Nov. 4, Unique Bella rebounded with gusto in the La Brea, earning a 98 Beyer Speed figure while likely swaying a good many undecided Eclipse Award voters. Unbeaten in two races going a route of ground, Unique Bella was a virtual gate to wire winner of the Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes on March 4, 2017—her only try at the Santa Maria distance of 1 1/16 miles. With “Big Money” Mike Smith engaged to ride for the ninth consecutive time, Unique Bella will likely go as the odds-on favorite Saturday.
Owner: Reddam Racing, LLC Trainer: Doug O'Neill
Third, beaten two lengths by Unique Bella in the Grade I La Brea Dec. 26, this 4-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo bounced back while attentive to the pace with a gutty win in the Grade II La Canada Jan. 13, prevailing by a short head in a thrilling three-horse photo. Well traveled, she was fifth in the Grade I, 1 1/8 miles Breeders' Cup Distaff three starts back and has faced more than her share of adversity over a career that has seen her go 15-3-4-2. Following her exhilarating La Canada win, O'Neill assistant Leandro Mora expressed a measure of vindication in the Winner's Circle: “This is a good filly,” he said. “She's always been a good filly and we know she can run with any Grade I horses. She needs to learn how to win and today should be a big step in the right direction. She is more than capable of doing this.”
Owner: Madeline Auerbach, LLC, Ron McCauley and Bardy Farm Trainer: Richard Mandella
An impressive 2 ¾ length winner of the Grade II, 1 1/16 miles Bayakoa Stakes two starts back on Dec. 3, this 6-year-old California-bred mare by Unusual Heat was on a roll going into the Grade II La Canada Stakes Jan. 13, but ran a disappointing fifth as the 6-5 favorite, losing to Mopotism by 2 ¾ lengths. With Flavien Prat back aboard on Saturday, she'll try to rebound as she seeks her eighth win from 18 overall starts.
THE GRADE II SANTA MARIA STAKES WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER
Race 4 of 10 Approximate post time 1:30 p.m. PT
1. Shenandoah Queen—Drayden Van Dyke—120
2. Mopotism—Mario Gutierrez—124
3. Kathy's Song—Brice Blanc—120
4. Unique Bella—Mike Smith–122
5. Majestic Heat—Flavien Prat–124
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