Don Alberto Stable's Unique Bella has already dispatched a champion to become the overwhelming early favorite for the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1).
A month after a 8 3/4-length romp in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) Feb. 5, when she handily defeated 2-year-old champion female Champagne Room, the Tapit filly will again face stiff competition in Abel Tasman and Noted and Quoted.
"We're just trying to continue along a path," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said of Unique Bella. "That path in California leads to (the Santa Ysabel) and then leads to looking forward to running in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1). If we do well there, our point race is the Kentucky Oaks."
Hollendorfer took the same path with Songbird last season until a fever in April knocked her out of Kentucky Oaks consideration.
"We lead our horses over with confidence, but we don't ever take anything for granted," the Hall of Fame trainer said.
The Bob Baffert-trained Noted and Quoted, owned by Speedway Stable, set the pace and tired to finish seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) won by Champagne Room, but won the Chandelier Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita in her start prior.
China Horse Club and Clearsky Farm's Abel Tasman earned her top-level score later in the year at Los Alamitos Race Course in the Starlet (G1) and the Quality Road filly showed steady improvement with trainer Simon Callaghan during her 2-year-old year. Her Starlet score followed a maiden-breaking win at Santa Anita in September and a conditional allowance win at Del Mar in November.
After a freshening Callaghan opted to keep Abel Tasman local at Santa Anita for her 2017 debut instead of shipping out of town to avoid Unique Bella. That may change in her next start, however, as her final prep for a potential Kentucky Oaks start could run through a different circuit.
"First start back, I like to run them at our home track—out of her home stall," Callaghan said. "After that the Sunland (Park) Oaks and Ashland (G1) at Keeneland—those two races are on our radar."
Callaghan also said Abel Tasman's time off wasn't for an injury, but to prepare for a 2017 run where she would peak in the Kentucky Oaks.
"She's exactly where we want her. She's training really good and we gave her time off by design," Callaghan said. "She'll move forward Saturday, but we're focusing on peaking during the Oaks. Obviously Unique Bella is an extremely talented filly and hard to beat, but we think our filly is going to give a good account of herself."
Rounding out the field is a trio of last-out winners and a newcomer in Southern California.
Outside of the graded winners, ERJ Racing and Reddam Racing's Tap It All is the only other stakes winner in the field. The Doug O'Neill-trained Tapizar filly had to travel to Turf Paradise to break her maiden in December after eight tries in Southern California, but appears to be on an upward trajectory. After her maiden score at 7 1/2 furlongs on the Turf Paradise grass, Tap It All ran third going a mile on the Santa Anita turf in the Blue Norther Stakes, then shipped to Northern California to win the California Oaks on Golden Gate Fields' synthetic main track Feb. 11.
Hollendorfer and O'Neill also have second entries, respectively, in Spooky Woods, who won a wet-track maiden special weight by 3 3/4 lengths at Santa Anita Jan. 20, and What What What, who will make her first start for O'Neill after making 11 starts for trainers Merrill and Richard Scherer in Kentucky and Louisiana.
The final entrant is the Richard Baltas-trained Mistressofthenight, a Midnight Lute filly who took an off-the-turf, 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight event by 4 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita. As a maiden she finished 11th behind Noted and Quoted in the Chandelier.
Santa Anita Park, Saturday, March 04, 2017, Race 6
- 1 1/16m
- 3 yo Fillies
- 3:00 PM (local)
|1||1Unique Bella (PA)||Mike E. Smith||124||Jerry Hollendorfer||1/5|
|2||2Tap It All (KY)||Santiago Gonzalez||120||Doug F. O'Neill||20/1|
|3||3Spooky Woods (KY)||Flavien Prat||120||Jerry Hollendorfer||20/1|
|4||4Mistressofthenight (KY)||Corey S. Nakatani||120||Richard Baltas||30/1|
|5||5What What What (KY)||Rafael Bejarano||120||Doug F. O'Neill||20/1|
|6||6Noted and Quoted (FL)||Martin Garcia||124||Bob Baffert||6/1|
|7||7Abel Tasman (KY)||Joseph Talamo||124||Simon Callaghan||5/1|