Unique Bella faces multiple grade 1 winner Paradise Woods in the La Brea Stakes

Unique Bella faces multiple grade 1 winner Paradise Woods in the La Brea Stakes

Chad B. Harmon

Unique Bella, Paradise Woods Face Off in La Brea

Top sophomore fillies headline a field of eight for seven-furlong test.

At various points this year, Unique Bella and Paradise Woods each could lay claim to bragging rights as the most brilliant member of the 3-year-old filly ranks.

Before being sidelined due to a shin injury in March, Unique Bella was considered the leading contender to emerge from the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) with the lilies, as she had run her foes off their feet during three consecutive graded stakes victories. And after Paradise Woods stepped into stakes company for the first time, emerging with an 11 3/4-length win in the April 8 Santa Anita Oaks (G1), it appeared the sophomore girls had a new freak to try and deal with.

When the divisional dust settled, it was Kentucky Oaks heroine Abel Tasman who was favored to have Eclipse Award voting go her way in January. Her former conquerors, however, aren't done making statements on their behalf, as Unique Bella and Paradise Woods will put their raw ability to the test against six other rivals in the $300,000 La Brea Stakes (G1) Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park.

After she finished second in her debut at Santa Anita in June of 2016, Unique Bella put together a string of results that had many deeming her trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's heiress to champion stablemate Songbird. The daughter of Tapit  won her next five starts by a combined 32 1/4 lengths—including victories in the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2), Las Virgenes Stakes (G2), Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3)—and headed into the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) as the even-money pick off a 3 1/2-length score in the 6 1/2-furlong LA Woman Stakes (G3) Oct. 8.

That air of invincibility was popped in the Breeders' Cup, as Unique Bella faded to seventh after setting fractions of :21.84 and :44.35 through a half-mile. With Paradise Woods drawn favorably in post 7 and graded winner Miss Sunset in post 1 for the La Brea, Unique Bella's ability to harness her speed will likely get a litmus test as she leaves from post 3.

"I felt she went too fast in the beginning," Hollendorfer said of Unique Bella's Breeders' Cup run. "That's not to be critical of (jockey) Mike (Smith), but we both felt the horse went too fast.

"She should be plenty fit enough to run in this race. She's been training beautifully (she breezed four furlongs in :48 3/5 Dec. 21) and can run short or long, and a lot of good horses can't do that."

Owned by Don Alberto Stable, Unique Bella has five wins from seven starts with $412,400 in earnings.

With Unique Bella on the shelf this spring, Paradise Woods inherited the role as Kentucky Oaks favorite, only to have the wheels come off when she finished 11th over the sealed, sloppy Churchill Downs track after setting the early pace. The daughter of Union Rags  had another off day, finishing sixth during her comeback effort in the Aug. 27 Torrey Pines Stakes (G3), but was able to get herself back on track when she overwhelmed three rivals in the Sept. 30 Zenyatta Stakes (G1).

Paradise Woods was able to hold her own in the Nov. 3 Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), when she came home third behind Forever Unbridled and Abel Tasman. The cutback from 1 1/8-miles to the La Brea's seven-furlong distance is one that "shouldn't be a problem," according to trainer Richard Mandella, who pointed to his charge's 4 1/4-length maiden win going 5 1/2 furlongs over the Santa Anita track in March.

The Jeff Bonde-trained Miss Sunset enters the La Brea after earning her first graded score in the Oct. 21 Lexus Raven Run Stakes (G2) at Keeneland going the same distance she will travel Tuesday. The daughter of Into Mischief  took the 6 1/2-furlong Sweet Life Stakes at Santa Anita in February—her lone win in five starts at the track.

"She hasn't surprised me," Bonde said. "She's a competitor. She tries every time and she does real well at seven-eighths."

Entries: La Brea S. (G1)

Santa Anita Park, Tuesday, December 26, 2017, Race 7

  • Grade I
  • 7f
  • Dirt
  • $300,000
  • 3 yo Fillies
  • 3:15 PM (local)
11Miss Sunset (CA)Julien R. Leparoux122Jeff Bonde5/1
22Marley's Freedom (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJavier Castellano120Robert B. Hess, Jr.20/1
33Unique Bella (PA)Keeneland Sales GraduateMike E. Smith122Jerry Hollendorfer9/5
44Mopotism (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateMario Gutierrez120Doug F. O'Neill12/1
55Faypien (FL)Drayden Van Dyke122Bob Baffert6/1
66Just a Little Hope (KY)Gary L. Stevens120Dan L. Hendricks12/1
77Paradise Woods (KY)Flavien Prat124Richard E. Mandella8/5
88Princess Karen (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateKent J. Desormeaux120Jeff Bonde12/1