03/01/2017 3:46PM

Hovdey: Unique Bella looks like she's one of a kind

Shigeki Kikkawa
Unique Bella wins her second Grade 2 race in last month's Las Virgenes.

For those not familiar with the name Fernando Diaz-Valdes, get used to it. As adviser to the vast holdings of the Chilean-based Don Alberto Stable, Diaz-Valdes will be representing his patrons once again on Saturday at Santa Anita when their 3-year-old filly sensation Unique Bella struts her considerable stuff in the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

After Grade 2 victories in the Santa Ynez and Las Virgenes stakes for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Unique Bella has grabbed the West Coast division by the throat and probably won’t let go until she has finished with the Santa Anita Oaks in early April. Beyond that, she will take her act on the road since California has nothing else of consequence for young fillies on dirt.

Diaz-Valdes and Don Alberto’s Carlos Heller have heard the clamor to run Unique Bella against colts, and to their credit, they smile and turn a deaf ear. There are other ways to make racing history.

“I understand that,” Diaz-Valdes said. “At this stage, it might appear that there are not so many good 3-year-olds around the country, so why not take a shot? But with a filly like this, you have to be careful and take it one step at a time. Besides, I think there are colts out there who are just starting to develop. You have to take Mastery seriously. You have to take McCraken seriously. You have to take Irish War Cry seriously.”

And you cannot, said Diaz-Valdes, afford to leave a race like the Kentucky Oaks on the table while dallying against colts in the Derby.

“The goal is to make her a champion,” Diaz-Valdes said. “There will be time later to run against the colts if we choose.”

Diaz-Valdes has been associated with Don Alberto since the mid-1980s while living and working in Northern California since 1982. Their common Chilean heritage has been a comfortable fit as the ambitions of Don Alberto grew from one of the biggest fish in the South American pond to an enterprise of global influence. Since 2013, the stable has expanded to a farm in Kentucky and racing strings with top trainers in New York (Bill Mott, Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher) and with John Gosden in England.

“It is truly a dream come true,” Diaz-Valdes said. “I wake up every day excited about the great races out there for the horses.”

Unique Bella cost $400,000 as a yearling. She made her first start last June 16 at Santa Anita going five furlongs. She broke slowly and finished second, beaten 2 1/4 lengths.

“One of her shins was bothering her after that race, so we stopped on her, wanting to make sure everything was okay,” Diaz-Valdes said. “She was immature, still growing, and a little more time did her good.”

No kidding. Unique Bella has won her three subsequent races by 10 1/2, 7 1/2, and 8 3/4 lengths, with Mike Smith sitting chilly each time. She is already threatening to exceed the accomplishments of her singular racing family.

Her dam, Unrivaled Belle, defeated Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne Stakes and later won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, a race better known for the controversial flop of the favored Life At Ten. While saddling for the Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park in June 2011, Unrivaled Belle reared and flipped backward, fracturing her withers. She was immediately retired.

As a generator of commerce, Unrivaled Belle has pumped a steady profit. She earned $1.8 million on the track for breeders Gary Seidler and Peter Vegso. She was sold as a broodmare in November 2011 for $2.8 million to the Brushwood Stable of Betty Moran. She was sold again last November for $3.8 million to Mandy Pope while in foal to Tapit, the sire of Unique Bella. Eighteen days later, Unique Bella won her maiden race at Del Mar by a pole.

Unrivaled Belle came by her class honestly. She is a daughter of Queenie Belle, who won the Lady’s Secret Handicap (now the Zenyatta), the Princess Stakes (now gone), and more than $600,000 in California while trained by Ben Cecil.

Past Queenie Belle, the direct female line of Unique Bella goes into hibernation for seven generations – as least as far as racing accomplishments are concerned. But then, bingo. The mother lode appears.

Pretty Polly, the 10th dam of Unique Bella, was a foal of 1901. She was born in Ireland and named for a traditional folk song that weaves a tale of love, murder, and dire retribution. Fans of “Deadwood” heard “Pretty Polly” over the end titles of a Season 2 episode. Fans of “House of Cards” heard Frank Underwood sing it to Claire. Fans of one are usually fans of the other.

As a racemare, Pretty Polly became a British icon. She won the English Triple Crown for fillies (1000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks, St. Leger) and lost only two of her 24 starts over four campaigns. (Liz Martiniak’s profile of Pretty Polly on the website Thoroughbred Heritage does her proper justice.)

As a broodmare, she was initially considered a failure, unable as she was to reproduce herself. In time, however, her daughters founded families that have stood the test of ages, with too many noteworthy offspring to list here. Let’s just say that without Pretty Polly, there would have been no Northern Dancer, no Vaguely Noble, no American Pharoah.

And no Unique Bella.