01/06/2011 5:00PM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Unrivaled Belle

Tom Keyser

Unrivaled Belle traveled from California to Florida and spent much of the year in New York, but for her in 2010, old Kentucky was her home. At Churchill Downs in the spring, she beat Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, in the La Troienne Stakes. That proved a preview of coming attractions, for when Unrivaled Belle returned to Churchill Downs in the fall, she won the most important race of her career, the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.

With the exception of a fourth-place finish on Santa Anita’s since-discarded Pro-Ride synthetic surface in February, when returning from a brief layoff for her 4-year-old debut, Unrivaled Belle never finished worse than second in 2010. The Ladies’ Classic was a sweet treat, for it was her first Grade 1 win after having finished second in four Grade 1 races, including her final three starts prior to the Breeders’ Cup.

“We were disappointed it took a while to get to the Grade 1 winner’s circle, but she did it at the right time,” said Bill Mott, the Hall of Famer who trains Unrivaled Belle – a gray daughter of Unbridled’s Song and the Bertrando mare Queenie Belle – for her breeders, Gary Seidler and Peter Vegso. “The key was that she relaxed a little better. When she put it in gear, she left them for dead at the eighth pole. It was over.

“She obviously showed an affinity for the Churchill Downs racing surface. That’s a large part of it.”

Because the Breeders’ Cup was to be held at Churchill Downs, Mott made the La Troienne an early season objective. After Unrivaled Belle finished fourth in the La Canada, she went to Florida and won the Grade 3 Rampart at Gulfstream. That set her up for the La Troienne, which was a Grade 2 in name only, for it attracted a Grade 1 field.

Unrivaled Belle was resolute that day, outdueling Rachel Alexandra following a fierce stretch battle. From that point forward, Mott’s remaining goal was to return six months later for the Ladies’ Classic.

Unrivaled Belle didn’t win another race until she returned to Churchill Downs, but she fired every time. In June, she chased Life At Ten every step of the way before settling for second in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. In August, she finished second to Malibu Prayer in the Grade 1 Ruffian at Saratoga after stumbling at the start. And in her final prep for the Ladies’ Classic, in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park, she finished second to Life At Ten while well clear of the rest of the field.

The week of the Breeders’ Cup, Mott was thrilled with the way Unrivaled Belle was training. Following her final work, his only doubt was the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Ladies’ Classic, 110 yards farther than the La Troienne.

“This is a sixteenth of a mile farther, so it adds another bit of a challenge,” Mott said. “She’s been a mile and an eighth her last couple of times, and she ran well. Maybe a mile and a sixteenth is her best distance. It’s the distance of the La Troienne. But she was coming on at the end of that race. She was very game.”

And she was just as game, even more so, in the Breeders’ Cup. Unrivaled Belle sat fifth during the early going, surged to the lead three furlongs from the wire, and held off Blind Luck, the Kentucky Oaks winner, to prevail by 1 3/4 lengths.

“This is one of the most hard-trying fillies I ride,” said jockey Kent Desormeaux, who was aboard Unrivaled Belle for every one of her 2010 starts. “She’s most deserving.”

Unrivaled Belle is currently with Mott’s string at Payson Park in Florida and is scheduled to remain in training for 2011. And why not? The Breeders’ Cup again will be at Churchill Downs this year. For Unrivaled Belle, that’s home sweet home.

PAST PERFORMANCES: Unrivaled Belle's 2010 season PPs (PDF)

KEY RACE REPLAY: Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Churchill Downs >>