10/06/2017 12:00PM

Unique Bella looks formidable in L.A. Woman Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Unique Bella trains at Santa Anita on March 19.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Unique Bella, the gray filly with freaky talent, returns from the sidelines Sunday at Santa Anita to reclaim her reputation and solidify her role as favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

Grade 3 sprints rarely hold as much importance as the $100,000 L.A. Woman Stakes will Sunday, but horses like Unique Bella do not come around often.

Unique Bella romped in her first four starts, including in three graded stakes, to emerge as the most exciting 3-year-old filly in the country. But when her problematic shins flared up again, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and assistant Dan Ward had no choice but to give her time.

“Sometimes you can get over them,” Ward said. “And sometimes, you need to stop. We stopped.” A similar setback occurred last fall; the summer layoff was longer.

Unique Bella never left the track, and resumed working in August. It soon was clear she was as good as ever, perhaps better. Five recent works at Santa Anita were bullets, including a deceptive 45.60-second scorcher Tuesday morning.

Unique Bella does things easily, and Ward believes she has improved since her most recent start in March. If so, Unique Bella should crush the $100,000 L.A. Woman, a 6 1/2-furlong race which is the fifth on a nine-race card.

Expectations are high. Unique Bella is a 1-5 favorite by track linemaker Jon White. Anything short of a decisive victory would be anticlimactic and force re-evaluation of her status as early favorite for the BC Filly and Mare Sprint on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.

With shin troubles behind her, Unique Bella looks formidable in the L.A. Woman.

“I think you’re going to see a better horse,” Ward said. “No matter how much you do on shins, (horses) have to feel it a little bit. You can get them cold, and get them where they’re not sensitive, but you don’t know how they feel when they’re running.”

Unique Bella did fine, but after a decisive victory over Abel Tasman in March, her shin trouble returned.

“Eventually, she was going to need time to just eliminate it,” Ward said. “Now she’s really sound.”

Her six rivals Sunday include minor stakes winners Bad Ju Ju, Princess Karen and Cuddle Alert, along with allowance winners Sturdy One, Dis Smart Cat and Lunar Empress.

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Key contenders

Unique Bella, by Tapit
Last 3 Beyers: 97-99-91

◗ Regular rider Mike Smith has worked Unique Bella for her comeback, and rides her Sunday.

◗ Unique Bella breaks from post 5, outside her main pace rival, giving Smith the option of seizing the lead or pressing the pace in the clear.

Bad Ju Ju, by Desert Code
Last 3 Beyers: 85-85-82

◗ Runner-up last out in a restricted sprint stakes at Del Mar, Bad Ju Ju is making her third start following a layoff.

◗ She is trained by Peter Miller, and Drayden Van Dyke rides.

Princess Karen, by Stay Thirsty
Last 3 Beyers: 88-81-70

◗ A front-runner who upset a sprint stakes for 3-year-olds last out, Princess Karen is the main pace rival for Unique Bella.

◗ She is trained by Jeff Bonde, and Kent Desormeaux rides.