Unique Bella Overcomes Adversity in Clement L. Hirsch Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

July 31st, 2018

It’s beginning to seem as though the fantastic filly has a shadow named “drama” that follows her whenever and wherever she runs.

Win or lose, there always seems to be something unusual or unexpected about her performances, and Saturday’s $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar was no exception. The race was supposed to be a mere workout for Unique Bella, who was sent off as the overwhelming 1-10 favorite in the 8.5-furlong race. Only four rivals showed up to oppose her, and on paper none of them appeared capable of warming up the two-time Grade 1 winner.

Then the gates opened and Unique Bella came out just a bit awkwardly, losing a shoe in the process. At first, it didn't seem to affect her performance—after all, she quickly sprinted to the lead through solid fractions of :23.25 and :46.80, which were sufficient to spread out the field over 16 lengths in the blink of an eye. Following six furlongs in 1:11.56, Unique Bella easily disposed of the pace-tracking Yuvetsi and cruised to a commanding advantage while under a hand ride from jockey Mike Smith; passing the eighth pole she was four lengths in front, seemingly on her way to an easy victory with just three shoes.

But in the final furlong, the 8-1 shot La Force­—coming off a respectable runner-up effort behind Unique Bella in the Beholder Mile (gr. I) last month—came charging from the back of the pack with a menacing rally. Smith, recognizing the threat, urged Unique Bella to accelerate, and while the response was neither instantaneous nor decisive, Unique Bella did gradually find another gear and safely held off La Force to prevail by a comfortable half-length.
The final time of 1:44.40 was modest, as was Unique Bella’s time for the final five-sixteenths of a mile (:32.84), but the lack of a shoe surely compromised her performance to some degree, and despite that obstacle she did give the impression of having something left in the tank. Indeed, at the finish line, she appeared to have La Force measured and might not have been passed even if they had traversed another furlong, though of course we can only speculate about that.

In any case, Unique Bella’s fees-paid berth to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) has been secured since the Clement L. Hirsch is a “Win and You’re In” for the Distaff. And while some of Unique Bella’s recent runs hint that the nine-furlong distance of the Distaff might be a bit beyond her best (remember, she was the champion female sprinter of 2017), her raw talent might be able to compensate in that final sixteenth of a mile. After all, it takes a special horse to win a Grade 1 race with only three shoes!