Unique Bella soars to early Kentucky Oaks favoritism

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Jen Caldwell

February 13th, 2017

The Road to the Kentucky Oaks wrapped up the Prep Season portion of its points races on Saturday when Chanel’s Legacy captured the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

However, UNIQUE BELLA ruled the week with her 8 3/4-length romp in last Sunday’s Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee earned her second straight stakes victory and joined Farrell as the only ones with two Kentucky Oaks points race wins under their girths.

Unique Bella never had any problems dominating the Las Virgenes despite finding herself three wide on the first turn. She merely galloped up to take command under a motionless Mike Smith down the backstretch. In fact, Smith never moved on the daughter of Tapit, allowing her to lengthen her advantage under her own power to finish a mile in 1:35.66.

Unique Bella earned a whopping 106 BRIS Speed rating for that score, easily her best to date. The ease with which she won, coupled with the fact the Pennsylvania-bred miss is Triple Crown nominated, immediately had fans clamoring for Hollendorfer to pit her against the boys.

But the Hall of Fame conditioner made it quite plain he wants to stick with the fillies and is targeting the April 8 Santa Anita Oaks (G1) with Unique Bella. Santa Anita has one more Oaks prep before that, the March 4 Santa Ysabel Stakes, which would give Unique Bella the opportunity to stretch out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time.

One day before Unique Bella’s tour de force in the Las Virgenes, TEQUILITA threw her hat into the Kentucky Oaks picture with a half-length upset of the Forward Gal Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.

The Michael Matz-trained lass was sent off the favorite in her three races prior to the Forward Gal, including a one-length victory in the Smart Halo Stakes when last seen on November 19 at Laurel Park, but wasn’t given much consideration in the Kentucky Oaks prep.

Exiting the gate as the 14-1 sixth choice, she settled in midpack as 6-5 favorite Ms Locust Point set the pace up front. Jockey Luis Saez angled her outside of the leaders entering the turn and the Union Rags filly swept up to take command heading into the stretch. She was challenged by 2-1 second favorite Pretty City Dancer while running in the middle of the lane but dug in to repel that threat and finish seven furlongs in 1:24.36.

The question now is can Tequilita successfully stretch out. She does have some experience at a longer distance, running second in a one-mile maiden last September at Laurel. The winner of that contest turned out to be Dancing Rags, who went on to capture the Alcibiades Stakes (G1) at Keeneland before running off-the-board in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) in her last start.

Tequilita has the option of trying eight furlongs again as the next Oaks prep on the Gulfstream calendar is the one-mile Davona Dale Stakes (G2) on March 4.

The bay filly now boasts three straight wins but was only awarded an 85 BRIS Speed rating for her Forward Gal triumph. She’ll have to improve if she hopes to face Unique Bella at some point.

CHANEL’S LEGACY brought the Prep Season portion of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks to a close with a 2 1/2-length triumph in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.

The Lynn Chleborad pulled off a similar score in the track’s Dixie Belle Stakes going six furlongs on January 21 but, like Tequilita, was overlooked in the Martha Washington.

The gray daughter of Dominus broke well in the middle of the eight-horse field and latched onto 8-5 favorite Perfect Wife’s flank as that one went up to lead the way. Chanel’s Legacy stalked just outside that rival before drawing even entering the turn and going on under Alex Birzer to take over rounding the bend. The Iowa-bred lass felt a few taps of the whip but had plenty of room between her and runner-up My Sweet Stella on the wire, stopping the clock in 1:38.51 for a mile.

Chanel’s Legacy will now target Oaklawn’s next Oaks prep, the Honeybee Stakes (G3) on March 11, which will see the filly stretch out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time. She earned an 87 BRIS Speed rating for the Martha Washington win.