It’s Post Time by Jon White: Unique Bella Dazzles

Celebrities galore were spotted on the red carpet in La La Land last Sunday prior to the 74th Golden Globe Awards. Meanwhile, down the road at Santa Anita Park, a rising star of the equine variety was seen when Unique Bella registered a ridiculously easy victory in the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes.

A $400,000 auction purchase, Unique Bella races for Don Alberto Stable. There was a buzz when the gray filly debuted at Santa Anita last June 23. From a pedigree standpoint, Unique Bella certainly has a license to be exceptional. She is a Pennsylvania-bred daughter of premier sire Tapit and the Unbridled’s Song mare Unrivaled Belle. Unrivaled Belle, who earned $1,854,706, won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (aka Distaff) at Churchill Downs in 2010 vs. the likes of Blind Luck (voted a 2010 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly) and Havre de Grace (voted 2011 Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year and champion older female).

Pounded down to 1-5 favoritism at first asking, Unique Bella finished second, 2 1/4 lengths behind another first-time starter, Chalon.

Chalon subsequently was entered in Santa Anita’s Landaluce Stakes on July 9, but she was a veterinarian scratch about four minutes before post time when reported to be lame. Chalon, a Dialed In filly, has not raced or even had a workout since the Landaluce.

As for Unique Bella, she was sidelined after the Landaluce by shin trouble (not unusual for a 2-year-old). When she returned to the racing wars at Del Mar on Nov. 26, Unique Bella served notice that she indeed could be a special filly. She won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden affair effortlessly by 10 1/4 lengths.

Jerry Hollendorfter elected to pass the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos on Dec. 10 with Unique Bella, feeling it would be running the filly back too quickly. The Hall of Fame trainer believed it would be more prudent to give Unique Bella more time between starts and run her in the Jan. 8 Santa Ynez.

The seven-furlong Santa Ynez also attracted Shane’s Girlfriend. In her debut at Santa Anita on Oct. 28, Shane’s Girlfriend won a six-furlong maiden race by 5 3/4 lengths. She then was even more impressive when she romped to a 13 1/4-length victory in the Grade III Delta Downs Princess on Nov. 19. Shane’s Girlfriend was assigned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure for her triumph in Louisiana, considerably higher than the 87 Unique Bella recorded for her Del Mar maiden win.

While the 3-year-old fillies were entering the starting gate for the Santa Ynez, Unique Bella was the 3-5 favorite, with Shane’s Girlfriend 3-2. But in the final odds change, Shane’s Girlfriend closed as the 4-5 favorite, with Unique Bella even money.

I assure you it will be a long, long time before Unique Bella is as good a price as even money again.

Unique Bella did not break all that alertly. When she did that, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith said he decided to take a hold of the filly early and see what would happen.

“It didn’t seem to bother her,” Smith said.

A close up fourth early, Unique Bella made an impressive four-wide move to the front on the far turn. Without being asked by Smith, Unique Bella swept past the three rivals battling for the lead — Resilient Humor, Shane’s Girlfriend and Princess Karen.

On the far turn, Unique Bella “started reaching out and breathing different air,” Smith said.

Unique Bella steadily drew away in the stretch. Despite being far from all out, she won by 7 1/2 lengths. It Tiz Well, also conditioned by Hollendorfer, finished second. Shane’s Girlfriend ended up third, 10 lengths behind the winner.

Unique Bella completed seven furlongs in 1:22.21 on a track that had just upgraded to fast from good. She was assigned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure.

Beyer Speed Figures do not take into consideration those instances in which a winner is far from all out. Both of Unique Bella’s wins are examples in which I think it would be a much truer reflection of those two performances if a + was added to her Beyer Speed Figures because she was far from all out on both occasions.

I also believe it would be appropriate for the Beyer makers to add a + whenever they have a suspicion that a figure is possibly lower than it should be for any number of reasons, such as when circumstances make it difficult to determine the track variant, a key element in calculating a Beyer. An example of a track variant difficulty was when American Pharoah won the Grade I Preakness Stakes in 2015 and was assigned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure.

Eclipse Award-winning Dick Jerardi conceded that calculating American Pharoah’s Preakness figure was tricky after a downpour just before the race had turned the track into a sea of slop. Jerardi and racing broadcaster Randy Moss are two individuals who, along with Andrew Beyer and others, make the Beyer Speed Figures. In a story Jerardi wrote for the Daily Racing Form after American Pharoah won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final start of his career, Jerardi addressed the lack of certainty associated with the 102 Beyer Speed Figure assigned to American Pharoah for the Preakness.

“We at Beyer Central explained at the time how much confidence we had in the Preakness Beyer — not much,” Jerardi wrote. “The one-race monsoon made comparisons with the other races impossible, so it was a one-race variant, never how you want to make numbers. Randy Moss and I thought it could have been a 112. We had our reasons. Frankly, we will never know for sure.”

That’s why a 102+ would have been totally justified.

I also feel that American Pharoah’s Arkansas Derby figure should have been a 105+ and his Haskell Invitational figure should have been 109+ because he was far from all out in those two victories.

And the way I see it when it comes to Unique Bella, she gets a 73 Beyer Speed Figure for her first race, an 87+ for her maiden win and an 88+ for her Santa Ynez victory.

According to the American Racing Manual, these are the Beyer Speed Figures for winners of the Santa Ynez going back to 1991:

2017 Unique Bella (88)

2016 Forever Darling (79)

2015 Seduire (95)

2014 Awesome Baby (78)

2013 Renee’s Titan (75) Beholder finished second

2012 Reneesgotzip (101)

2011 California Nectar (85)

2010 Amen Hallelujah (93)*

2009 Alpha Kitten (90)*

2008 Indian Blessing (92)*

2007 Jump On In (93)

2006 Dance Daily (93)

2005 Sharp Lisa (92)

2004 Yearly Report (107)

2003 Elloluv (85)

2002 Dancing (85)

2001 Golden Ballet (107)

2000 Penny Blues (89)

1999 Honest Lady (105)

1998 Nijinsky’s Passion (87)

1997 Queen Of Money (89)

1996 Raw Gold (90)

1995 Serena’s Song (102)

1994 Tricky Code (89)

1993 Fit to Lead (93)

1992 Looie Capote (97)

1991 Brazen (91)

*Run on synthetic footing

A STIRRING SHAM

The day before the Santa Ynez, Gormley and American Anthem battled all the way down the stretch to a dramatic photo finish in Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes at one mile on a sloppy track. Gormley won by a head at 8-5 to redeem himself after a disappointing effort in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his final start at 2.

Gormley kicked off his racing career with a 4 1/4-length maiden victory in a 6 1/2-furlong race at Del Mar last Sept. 4, though he was assigned just a 64 Beyer Speed Figure. He then showed dramatic improvement in the Beyer department by recording a 93 when he stepped up to the Grade I level and won Santa Anita’s FrontRunner Stakes in front-running fashion by three lengths on Oct 1.

Sent off at 5-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the Great Race Place on Nov. 5, Gormley ran seventh. He finished 16 1/4 lengths behind the winner, Classic Empire, who currently is considered the favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

Gormley, a Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon colt trained by John Shirreffs of Zenyatta fame, posted a final time of 1:35.89 in the Sham. He was assigned a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure.

These are the Beyer Speed Figures for winners of the Sham going back to its first running in 2001:

2017 Gormley (94)

2016 Collected (81)

2015 Calculator (98)

2014 Midnight Hawk (95)

2013 Goldencents (98)

2012 Out of Bounds (99)

2011 Tapizar (98)

2010 Alphie’s Bet (86)*

2009 The Pamplemousse (107)*

2008 Colonel John (86)*

2007 Ravel (104)

2006 Bob and John (102)

2005 Going Wild (100)

2004 Master David (100)

2003 Man Among Men (100)

2002 U S S Tinosa (98)

2001 Wild and Wise (97)

*Run on synthetic footing

American Anthem, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, did not win the Sham as the even-money favorite, but he lost little stature in defeat. Gormley did have an experience advantage over American Anthem in the Sham.

Going into the Sham, Gormley had started three times, including twice in races at 1 1/16 miles. American Anthem’s only start prior to the Sham had been a nose victory in a six-furlong maiden contest at Del Mar on Dec. 3.

In American Anthem’s maiden victory, he had recorded an 86 Beyer Speed Figure. He improved to a 94 in the Sham.

American Anthem brought $180,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale. He then was pinhooked for $435,000 at the OBS March sale in 2016. He is a son of the Baffert-trained Bodemeister, who in 2012 won the Grade I Arkansas Derby by 9 1/2 lengths before finishing second to I’ll Have Another in both the Grade I Kentucky Derby and Grade I Preakness Stakes.

There certainly is considerable stamina in American Anthem’s pedigree in that his paternal grandsire is Empire Maker, winner of the Grade I Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles in 2003, while American Anthem’s maternal grandsire is 1992 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy. A.P. Indy is a son of the great Seattle Slew, who won the 1977 Belmont Stakes to complete his sweep of the Triple Crown.

End

It’s Post Time by Jon White: Unique Bella Dazzles