Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella proved much the best while making her stakes bow in Sunday’s $200,000 Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.
The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained daughter of Tapit tracked the early pace while four wide, ranged up on the outside rounding the bend and drew off with jockey Mike Smith sitting chilly in the saddle to be 7 1/2 lengths clear on the wire. The Pennsylvania-bred gray finished seven furlongs on the fast main track in 1:22.21.
Unique Bella earned 10 points toward a spot in the starting gate for the May 5 Kentucky Oaks (G1) thanks to this victory. The Santa Ynez was the first Road to the Kentucky Oaks points race of 2017 and boosted Unique Bella all the way into 10th place on the Leaderboard.
It Tiz Well, also trained by Hollendorfer, was making her second career start and stakes bow in the Santa Ynez just like Unique Bella. Both fillies broke their maidens by 10 lengths, with the Santa Ynez winner getting the job done on November 26 at Del Mar and It Tiz Well scoring on December 18 at Los Alamitos.
It Tiz Well rounded out the Hollendorfer exacta while 2 1/2 lengths up on 4-5 favorite Shane’s Girlfriend. She earned four points and position number 18 on the Kentucky Oaks Leaderboard.
Shane’s Girlfriend already boasted 10 points thanks to a 13-length triumph in the Delta Downs Princess (G3) to close out her juvenile campaign. The Doug O’Neill charge suffered her first loss in this spot but still picked up two points, which saw her jump from sixth on the Leaderboard to third with 12 points.
Princess Karen, who rounded out the top four Santa Ynez finishers, picked up one point to debut in 31st on the Kentucky Oaks Leaderboard.
SANTA YNEZ QUOTES
Mike Smith, jockey Unique Bella, winner
“She was a little aggressive in the gate and she was off a tad slow. I probably could have moved her, set her up a bit differently in order for her to break better, but I was scared to do that and make her react and do something I wouldn’t want her to do.
“When I saw everyone else send, I thought it was a good time to take a hold of her and see what happens. It didn’t seem to bother her. When we hit the far turn, it was like she was breathing different air.
“The decisions I make are quick, but you have to make it all seem casual. Otherwise, it gets to be too quick, too fast and you can react too quickly yourself and make matters worse. You have to always be prepared for Plan B and Plan C if need be.
“Now, it’s more reasonable to compare her (to champion Songbird). Again, she’s very, very talented but with room to grow. Hopefully with each step, she’ll get smarter about certain things. I’m just blessed, that’s all I can say.”
Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer Unique Bella, winner
“Well, I’ve always liked her. Today, she showed that she’s brilliant. We thought she’d jump out of there a little better. I thought she would be close to the lead. Mike used his judgement, got behind and then got to the outside so it worked out well and our other filly (It Tiz Well) also got Grade 2-placed, so we’re very pleased right now.
“We’ll relax a little bit and see where we go next. We purposely waited this long with her and pointed towards this race. I don’t know if we’ve seen all there is to Unique Bella but I’ll ask Mike.”
Flavien Prat, jockey Shane’s Girlfriend, third
“She broke well, we broke on top, but we got pressure right away from the inside and the outside. I thought we could be second, but we weren’t going to beat the winner today.”