Midlantic-breds top 3-year-old divisions
Unique Bella. Photo courtesy of Santa Anita Park.
by Frank Vespe
Talk about a productive weekend for horses bred in the mid-Atlantic region!
In fact, two horses bred in the region zoomed to darn near the top of their respective divisions.
On the East Coast, Irish War Cry scored a dominant, front-running win in the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. That win put the New Jersey-bred son of Curlin squarely in the Kentucky Derby picture, coming, as it did, over the likes of defending two-year-old champ Classic Empire, who finished third, and graded stakes winner Gunnevara, who was second.
“He’s a really nice horse and I was obviously really high on him, but when you’re running against the juvenile champion, you have reservations,” trainer Graham Motion said in a bit of understatement.
Motion said he’d considered ducking Classic Empire and heading to Tampa Bay Downs but decided to tackle the champ after all.
Irish War Cry, who won his first two starts at Laurel Park, now is three-for-three in his short career. He was bred in the Garden State by his owner, Isabelle de Tomaso. He is ranked the nation’s top three-year-old in the most recent National Thoroughbred Racing Association Top Thoroughbred Poll.
Meanwhile, on the Left Coast, another sophomore delivered another boffo performance – also against a defending champion.
Facing two-year-old filly champ Champagne Room in the Grade 2 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita Park, Pennsylvania-bred Unique Bella simply toyed with her overmatched rivals, including the champ. Under jockey Mike Smith, Unique Bella surged to the lead after a half-mile in 45.62 seconds and ran away from the field, rolling to a nearly-nine-length victory. Champagne Room could do no better than a third-place finish.
Unique Bella is sixth on the NTRA poll which Irish War Cry tops. She is the highest-rated filly on the list.
“She’s impressive,” said Fernando Diaz-Valdes, racing manager for Unique Bella’s owner, Don Alberto Stable. “You never know when you’re going to run with a wonderful champion two-year-old. You always have second thoughts, but she proved that she is very good. She was very impressive.
But, while Irish War Cry is firmly on the Triple Crown trail, Unique Bella is not. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said his preference will be to run in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks and then, if all goes to plan, the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.
“I really like to concentrate on the filly races,” Hollendorfer added. “If an opportunity came to do something else we’d probably have to consider that, but I’d like to keep her against the fillies if I can.”
Unique Bella was bred in the Keystone State by Brushwood Stable. She is by Tapit out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Unrivaled Belle. Unrivaled Belle, a millionaire multiple-graded stake winner, won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (now called the Distaff). She was sold for $400,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Unique Bella was second on debut, in June at Santa Anita. She didn’t return until November, but when she did return, she came back running. In three subsequent starts – a maiden race at Del Mar, the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes, and Sunday’s Las Virgenes – she hasn’t had a rival finish within seven lengths of her.
OTHER RUNNERS Pennsylvania-bred Mor Spirit ran second as the favorite in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita Saturday. He led in the lane but could not hold off the late run of Hoppertunity, who won by a length… Maryland-bred Bonus Points finished fourth in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. He was eight lengths behind winner El Areeb… Maryland-bred A Great Time finished sixth, though beaten less than three lengths, in the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream Park…