After a seventh-place finish as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), Don Alberto Stable's Unique Bella delivered on her promise with her first grade 1 victory Dec. 26 in the $300,000 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
While her Breeders' Cup run saw her set rapid fractions on the lead, in the La Brea jockey Mike Smith took hold of the speedy daughter of Tapit early in the seven-furlong test. With the change in tactics, Smith got her to the outside of a four-way contest for the lead in the backstretch and wore down two-time grade 1 winner Paradise Woods in the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length.
"I was concerned about going too fast early," Smith said. "That was the problem with the Breeders' Cup. She has been training very aggressively in the mornings, so that was my concern. She relaxed and rated, and was happy with the pace she had to run today. She gave it all she had to get the job done."
Miss Sunset, Princess Karen, Marley's Freedom, and Paradise Woods were all vying for the lead early, but only one had staying power. The fractions went in :22.26 and :44.43 through a half-mile, and all but Paradise Woods faded turning for home, but Unique Bella had her target.
With about a length to make up at the top of the stretch, Unique Bella found enough to get by in the final sixteenth and finished off the seven furlongs in 1:21.49.
"She broke well and had a good trip," said Paradise Woods' jockey, Flavien Prat. "She relaxed well, and turning for home she re-engaged and ran a good race."
The La Brea was the fifth graded win of the year for Unique Bella, who at one point was the favorite on the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail before she was sidelined with a shin issue in March.
"We never lost confidence in her," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "We worked with her to run a good race today—thank God. Mike and I both thought she went too fast early last time and she didn't finish. Today he let her lay a little off the pace and kept her wide, and she finished well."
Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, out of the grade 1-winning Unbridled's Song mare Unrivaled Belle, Unique Bella now has six wins from eight starts and $592,400 in earnings. She was a $400,000 purchase by Don Alberto out of the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale.