Michael B. Tabor's Ciao Bella ran like a favorite should March 30 at Gulfstream Park, holding the advantage from gate to wire and drawing off to a 4 1/2-length victory in the $150,000 Rampart Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO).
The 2-5 choice in a field of six older fillies and mares, Ciao Bella went 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.06 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez when earning her first graded stakes score. She was followed home by stablemate Authenticity, giving trainer Todd Pletcher the exacta and his third consecutive Rampart win.
The 4-year-old Giant's Causeway filly was barely bothered on the front end after breaking sharply. She set soft early fractions of :24.64 and :49.20 with 3-1 second choice Successful Song tracking along outside about a half length behind. Ciao Bella opened a one-length advantage while going three-quarters in 1:13.07, and struck the head of the lane under a confident hand ride.
"We knew there wasn't a lot of speed except for Successful Song," Velazquez said. "It seemed like she didn't want to be on the lead, so it was pretty easy."
Authenticity was clearly second best by more than 11 lengths after closing three wide to pass a tiring Successful Song as Ciao Bella widened her advantage through the stretch. Go Unbridled, Call the Ten, and One Last Dance completed the order of finish.
"We were just third-best today," trainer Eddie Plesa said regarding Successful Song. "Ciao Bella was far superior...and we tried to put pressure on her. We just finished third."
The win was a second stakes victory on the Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) undercard for Pletcher, who took the Sir Shackleton Stakes with Travelin Man.
"It's a good start to the day," Pletcher said. "We were also looking at (the Ruffian Handicap) at Aqueduct for Ciao Bella (next Saturday). It was a tough call. I talked it over with Mr. Tabor and decided to keep her here. She was two-for-two over the main track. With the slow fractions, Johnny was able to dictate the race. The other mare (Authenticity) ran a good race to be second after getting bottled up behind the slow pace. I haven't got any specific plans for them right now."
Ciao Bella was bred in Kentucky by Chelston out of the French Deputy mare Bella Bellucci. After breaking her maiden on the Gulfstream dirt at the end of 2011 and making two other main track starts in 2012, she was moved to turf for a try at the Garden City Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park, where she finished fourth. At the end of 2012 she ran on the turf to finish second to Closing Range in the La Prevoyante Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Calder Casino & Race Course after missing by just three-quarters of a length to Upperline in the Rood and Riddle Dowager Stakes at Keeneland.
Switched back to dirt this season after a third-place finish in one outing over the Gulfstream lawn, Ciao Bella responded with a 5 3/4-length allowance win going a mile Feb. 18. The Rampart score improved her record to 4-2-1 from nine starts, with earnings of $236,960.