Don Alberto Stable's Unique Bella didn't have everything go her way during her return to racing in the $100,000 LA Woman Stakes (G3) Oct. 8 at Santa Anita Park, but her class was more than enough to make up for some uneasy early moments.
After a slow break put her in last, the Tapit filly was rank in between horses as the field exited the chute in the 6 1/2-furlong test. Jockey Mike Smith got her to the outside soon after, though, and the big gray settled into a stalking position behind early leaders Princess Karen and Lunar Empress.
Once in the clear there wasn't much the rest of the field could do against the 1-5 favorite. She cruised by the frontrunners in the turn and kicked away late to win by 3 1/2 lengths over a game Princess Karen. The final time was 1:16.66 over what was a slow Santa Anita main track all day Sunday.
"She's really funny out of the gate," Smith said. "She either handles it very well or not so well. She kinda rocks back and forth, and she weaves in there. You try and make her stand still, but if you try too hard, she gets a bit aggravated. ... What I found interesting today was that she settled really nicely. In the past, I don't think she would have done that.
"She would have just run on by and opened up by five, six, or seven, and coasted on home. Today she rated nicely and I had horse left."
Princess Karen set fractions of :22.32 and :45.32 through a half-mile but didn't have an answer for the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained runner rolling on the outside.
"She had a little adversity in the beginning, but Mike handles that very well," Hollendorfer said. "She slipped a little bit leaving the gate. And then when he asked her to rate a little bit, she had her head up a little, but then she settled right down and got down to business."
The LA Woman was the fourth straight graded win for Unique Bella, but her first in seven months. She was sent to the sideline after a shin injury in March, when she was the likely Santa Anita Oaks (G1) and Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) favorite.
"You have to be patient," said Don Alberto racing manager Fernando Diaz-Valdes. "We had to skip the Santa Anita Oaks and the Kentucky Oaks (and) everybody said we had the horse to beat. It was painful, to be honest, but you have to do what's best for the horse. She's sound now and the future looks bright. It's great to have her back."
Up next for Unique Bella is the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) at Del Mar.
"We've talked about (the Filly & Mare Sprint) for a long time," Hollendorfer said. "We thought if we could get her back to this race and get a good race in her that we could probably do that."
Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, out of the grade 1 winning Unbridled's Song mare Unrivaled Belle, Unique Bella now has a 5-1-0 record from six starts and $402,400 in earnings. She was a $400,000 yearling purchase at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale.