If you want to compare two of the sport’s best fillies at this early stage, go right ahead. It’s fun. It’s one of the best things about sports, debating the merits of teams, their best players and, in this case, fast fillies.
Make no mistake, Songbird and Unique Bella are very, very fast. Very, very talented. And there are many valid similarities. It’s rare when two fillies this good come along in consecutive years, let alone wind up in the same barn under trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Yeah, it’s kinda like American Pharoah-Arrogate all over again, only filly style. Hollendorfer and Bob Baffert can swap stories about their good fortunes.
Unique Bella, the royally bred daughter of Tapit (her mother is 2010 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Unrivaled Belle), won last weekend’s Grade II Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita by 8 3/4 lengths. It could have been 10, 12, 15. Who knows? Jockey Mike Smith never got into her.
It’s the same stakes race stablemate Songbird won last year by 6 1/2 lengths. Unique Bella’s final time for the one mile (1:35.66) was more than a second faster than Songbird’s (1:36.84). Her Beyer speed figure of 98 was the fastest by a 3-year-old this year — male or female.
Does that mean Unique Bella is better, or is going to be better, than Songbird? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Songbird, who has yet to make her 2017 debut, has won 11 of 12 races, is a two-time Eclipse Award winner and narrowly lost to three-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff in a race for the ages.
Unique Bella has yet to win her first Grade I, although if she stays healthy it’s only a matter of time. She’s won three of four races, and she’s won all of them convincingly, scoring by a combined 26 1/2 lengths. Songbird won her first five races by a total of 28 1/2 lengths.
Let’s just say they’re both excellent fillies, and Unique Bella still has a ways to go to match Songbird’s career to date.
One of Songbird’s strengths is her ability to ship out of state and win. She left the comforts of California and shipped to Keeneland, Parx Racing and Saratoga (twice) to register Grade I victories. Unique Bella has won at Del Mar and Santa Anita.
That’s not to say Unique Bella can’t ship and win. She’ll probably get her chance later this year, but first she’ll most likely take aim at her first Grade I in the Santa Anita Oaks on April 8, the same race Songbird won before becoming ill and missing the Kentucky Oaks.
Just like with Songbird, there are fans who want to see Unique Bella tackle the boys, like when Rachel Alexandra whipped ’em in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward Stakes. Folks just love seeing the fillies beat the boys.
Hollendorfer is not so inclined. He didn’t become a Hall of Famer by taking reckless chances, not that running Unique Bella in the Kentucky Derby would be reckless. It’s just riskier than facing other fillies in the Oaks.
And remember, that rigorous campaign Rachel Alexandra endured took a lot out of her. She was not the same filly when she returned for her 4-year-old season. Not even close. A brilliant filly came back as just a very good one.
Still, Fernando Diaz-Valdes, racing manager for Unique Bella owner Don Alberto Stable, didn’t close the door on the Kentucky Derby immediately after the Las Virgenes.
“I think it’s too early to say,” he said. “We’ll have to take a look at what’s happening around the country. We have to go to the next level first.”
The next level would be a Grade I. I think if Hollendorfer has his way, it will be the Santa Anita Oaks and then the Kentucky Oaks. There’s plenty of time to face the boys down the road. It’s my belief that, the way he sounded after the Las Virgenes, Hollendorfer would prefer to follow the same path as Songbird’s 3-year-old campaign, only with the Kentucky Oaks sprinkled in.
But the Derby beckons.
“I’m told I should go to the Kentucky Derby, when the time comes,” Diaz-Valdes said. “But we’ll see.”
One thing’s for certain — if she stays sound, we’ll see Unique Bella at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend the first Saturday in May. Just not sure yet which day she’ll be running.
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.