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.”