The fulfillment of the promise for Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella began with her final race of 2016, when she crushed a group of maiden fillies by 10 1/4 lengths.
At the start of her 3-year-old season, she unquestionably and immediately lived up to the hype, with a 7 1/2-length win over eventual grade 1 winner It Tiz Well in the seven-furlong Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park. Unique Bella then took down juvenile filly champion Champagne Room in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) around two turns at Santa Anita and defeated eventual Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Abel Tasman in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3).
At that point, she was the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) favorite. And while her future might still be around two turns, fate intervened in late March. But “plan B” for 2017 would result in an Eclipse Award for champion female sprinter.
A shin injury knocked the gray daughter of Tapit—Unrivaled Belle, by Unbridled’s Song, bred by Brushwood Stable, off the Oaks trail, her connections at Don Alberto and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer felt it was best not to stretch her out the rest of the year.
She made her return to racing in October, with a relatively easy score in the 6 1/2-furlong L.A. Woman Stakes (G3) despite some trouble, but that contest was an obvious prep for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) in November.
With her record of brilliance and well-documented workouts that featured power and efficiency, Unique Bella went off at 11-10 in the 14-horse sprint, set a cutthroat pace on the lead, and tired late to finish seventh, seven lengths behind 66-1 upset winner—and Eclipse finalist—Bar of Gold.
However, Unique Bella would not be denied that top-level victory, even if it took until the final days of 2017. Engaged in a showdown with grade 1 winner Paradise Woods in the Dec. 26 La Brea Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, she did not enjoy the geared-down romp that she had in her seasonal debut but accomplished her task with her first top-level victory.
Unlike her race in the Breeders’ Cup, Unique Bella settled behind horses early in the La Brea and made her move late in the backstretch. As the rest of the field faded on the turn, Paradise Woods held a lead and Unique Bella had to go get her. The big gray did not disappoint her connections. Although Paradise Woods never gave in on the inside, Unique Bella wore her down to win by a three-quarters of a length.
Never one for effusive commentary before or after races, Hollendorfer was to the point after the La Brea. Despite the challenges of the year, he knew what he had in Unique Bella.
“We never lost confidence in her,” the Hall of Fame trainer said.