Unique Bella cruises to victory in Santa Maria Stakes

ARCADIA, Calif. -- Jerry Hollendorfer and his staff have gotten Unique Bella to slow down in the morning, and that has made the champion filly even more dangerous than she already was in the afternoon.

In her first start since being named the Eclipse Award-winning female sprinter of 2017, Unique Bella had an easy time of it on Saturday at Santa Anita in her 4-year-old debut, coasting home against four overmatched rivals for a nine-length victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes as she returned to two-turn racing.

As good as she was sprinting -- good enough to be the best of her division -- she's now 3 for 3 around two turns, and 7 for 9 overall. What will serve her well as the year progresses is if she retains the demeanor she displayed on Saturday, when she set an easy lead without getting aggressive and went about her business as if out for a morning workout under jockey Mike Smith.

"She's not quite as anxious as she used to be in the morning or the afternoon," Hollendorfer said. "She's settled down in the morning, and she has a lot left for the afternoon. I'll keep training her the same way."

Unique Bella doesn't blast off in her workouts anymore, and she gets extensive paddock schooling. The fruits of that labor paid off Saturday. Unique Bella made the top in 23.54 seconds for the opening quarter, went the half in 46.80 and three-quarters in 1:10.95 while loping along, then drew away through the lane while covering 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:43.45.

As the heavy favorite, Unique Bella paid $2.20 to win.

No one else mattered. Mopotism finished second, 1 1/4 lengths in front of Majestic Heat. Shenandoah Queen was fourth, and Kathy's Song was last after breaking poorly.

Unique Bella, 4, a daughter of Tapit, picked up $120,000 for the victory and now has career earnings of $712,400 for owner Don Alberto Stable, which purchased her as a yearling for $400,000.

Hollendorfer said Unique Bella would make her next start in the Grade 1, $400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes here on March 17 and then could be pointed to the Grade 1, $700,000 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 13.