Thoroughbred racing's next superstar has arrived.
The gray shooting star that has shown no signs of anything other than an upward trajectory is named Unique Bella.
The 3-year-old Tapit filly owned by Don Alberto Stable and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer appeared as if she was just out for a breezy spin in her two-turn debut under jockey Mike Smith.
After tracking early leader Mopotism and Champagne Room—the 2016 champion 2-year-old filly and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner—Unique Bella and Smith had seen enough of horse behinds. With a three-wide move in the backstretch, Unique Bella took command and opened up a clear lead.
"The way she settled, I could have taken her even farther back," Smith said. "At some point you have to let them be who they are—let them do what they're good at. I just let her do what she wanted to do and she picked it up, and was well within herself."
There was a moment in the final turn—and it was just a moment—when it appeared Champagne Room was game for a challenge. The Broken Vow filly got within a length of Unique Bella in the last bend, but the gray shrugged off the champion seemingly without any effort at all.
In the stretch, any thought of an upset became laughable, as Unique Bella kicked away without any asking from Smith. With a furlong to run, the margin was five lengths and at the wire it was 8 3/4, as Smith geared down his filly to a gallop.
"You never expect that, but I was pretty confident when Mike kind of made his move early," Hollendorfer said. "I knew that he knew he had a lot of horse, so he just went for it and it turned out well."
Mopotism came in second, 1 1/4 lengths clear of Champagne Room, who had passed that rival in the turn. Miss Southern Miss trailed throughout and came in fourth.
After a second-place run in her June debut at Santa Anita going five furlongs, Unique Bella romped in her next two races, but both were sprints. She set the pace and cruised to a 10 1/4-length win in November to break her maiden at 6 1/2 furlongs on the Del Mar main track, then stormed to a 7 1/2-length score in her stakes debut, the Jan. 8 Santa Ynez (G2) at seven furlongs.
In the Las Virgenes Mopotism ran the first quarter in :22.82, but Unique Bella had command at every call after that. The half went in :45.62 and Unique Bella hit six furlongs in 1:10.27, seven in 1:22.71, and finished off the mile in 1:35.66 under wraps.
As for the future, Hollendorfer said he'd like to keep his Pennsylvania-bred filly racing against females.
"I'd like to keep her in California just like I did with Songbird," Hollendorfer said. "There's enough money to run out here and run against the girls, not the boys. I think we'll try to run here and if we'd be fortunate enough, we'd point to the (Longines Kentucky) Oaks (G1)."
Don Alberto Stable racing manager Fernando Diaz-Valdes opened the door a little more than his Hall of Fame trainer about possibly taking on males.
"I think it's too early to say," Diaz-Valdes said. "We'll have to take a look at what is happening around the country. ... I'm told I should go to the Kentucky Derby, when the time comes, but we'll see."
Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella was a $400,000 purchase by Don Alberto out of the Eaton Sales consignment at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale.