Mercedes Stables, West Point Thoroughbreds, Scott Dilworth, Steve Mooney, and Dorothy and David Ingordo's Hard Not To Love posted an 11-1 upset of Saturday's Grade 1 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita Park, rolling from last to first to defeat favorite Bellafina by about two lengths on the wire. The 3-year-old daughter of Hard Spun, ridden by Mike Smith for trainer John Shirreffs, ran seven furlongs over the fast main track in 1:22.17.
It was Smith's fifth La Brea win, following Unique Bella (2017), Birdatthewire (2015), Dearest Trickski (2007), and Alphabet Kisses (2004). The victory also tied Smith with jockey Jerry Bailey for the most Grade 1 victories in history at 216.
“It's quite a feat,” Smith said. “It is something that is going to go up there as one of my greatest achievements. Just to equal a guy like Jerry Bailey is amazing. He's someone I've looked up to for years. That was actually Jerry's celebration out of respect.”
The John Shirreffs-trained Hard Not To Love lost her left eye in a training accident during her earliest days under saddle, according to XBTV's Zoe Cadman.
“My hat's off to West Point Thoroughbreds, John Shirreffs and the whole barn, so many people,” added Smith. “They work so hard with this mare. She has one eye (her right) so she gets a little bit of anxiety at times. We work hard with her and it's great to see the hard work that we put in pay off today.”
That didn't stop Hard Not To Love from a massive performance in the La Brea, the filly comfortably settling back last down the backstretch after breaking a bit slowly. Bellafina rushed up to take the lead, meanwhile, with Mother Mother at her flank through opening fractions of :21.70 and :44.41.
Mother Mother drew alongside Bellafina through the far turn, while Smith put Hard Not To Love in a drive toward the leading pair. Bellafina was able to turn back the challenge of Mother Mother by the eighth pole, but the fast-closing Hard Not To Love was too much for the favorite in the final stages. Hard Not To Love cruised under the wire a winner by about two lengths, with Bellafina having to settle for second. Mother Mother held on to finish third.
“Yes, she was really a handful going to the gate,” noted Shirreffs. “She only has the one eye (her right), and when she gets nervous, she tends to spin around to see. This was a great race to win. For a filly to win a Grade I, that's like a PhD, so it makes it especially fulfilling.
“Mike (Smith) has really made a difference with her. When he made the decision to ride her, he put his reputation as a horseman on the line. I think that made this even more special.”
Bred in Ontario by Anderson Farms Ontario, Hard Not To Love commanded $400,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale as the half-sister to Queen's Plate winner Wonder Gadot. The La Brea was her first stakes win, and improved the filly's overall record to four wins from five starts for earnings of over $280,000.
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