03/04/2017 7:13PM

Unique Bella overcomes slow start to win Santa Ysabel

Emily Shields
Unique Bella, with Mike Smith aboard, wins the Santa Ysabel Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Unique Bella overcame a tardy start and a threat in the stretch from her chief rival to extend her winning streak to four races in Saturday’s Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita.

But unlike her two previous stakes wins this year, both by at least seven lengths, Unique Bella was tested in the $100,345 Santa Ysabel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, leaving jockey Mike Smith slightly concerned about the circumstances.

Unique Bella ($2.20) ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11, finishing 2 1/4 lengths in front of Abel Tasman, the winner of the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos in December.

The margin was not as much of an issue to Smith as the first quarter-mile of the race. Unique Bella missed the break and charged between rivals on the first turn to take command with more than six furlongs remaining.

“I got left so bad,” Smith said. “That was the worst thing that could have happened.”

A furlong into the race, Unique Bella was eager, leaving Smith with no alternative but to find space between runners.

“I would have run over somebody,” Smith said. “I had to do a little bit of pushing, but I was on a big filly.”

Unique Bella led by three lengths on the backstretch and by five lengths on the turn before Abel Tasman began to move closer. With a furlong to go, Abel Tasman was within a length under jockey Joe Talamo but could not sustain the rally.

“When I got into her, she jumped back into the bridle,” Smith said.

The Santa Ysabel was Abel Tasman’s first start since the Starlet Stakes.

“I thought we had her,” trainer Simon Callaghan said. “Real race fitness came into it.

“I think Joe did everything right early and got a good run at the end. I’m not disappointed.”

Abel Tasman, the 5-1 second choice, finished eight lengths clear of 26-1 Spooky Woods, who was followed by Mistressofthenight, What What What, and Tap It All.

Noted and Quoted, who won the Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes here in October and was seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last November, was scratched by trainer Bob Baffert on Saturday morning in favor of a start in the $250,000 Sunland Park Oaks in New Mexico on March 26.

Unique Bella, by Tapit, races for Don Alberto Stable and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

Hollendorfer said Unique Bella may have been waiting on rivals in the stretch.

“Mike had to wave the stick at her, but she responded right away,” he said. “I wasn’t too worried.”

Unique Bella beat maidens at Del Mar in November in her second start and is unbeaten in three races this year. She won the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes at seven furlongs by 7 1/2 lengths on Jan. 8 and the Grade 2 Las Virgenes Stakes at a mile by 8 3/4 lengths on Feb. 5.

Hollendorfer intends to start Unique Bella in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, a $400,000 race at 1 1/16 miles on April 8.