This year marks the second consecutive year the reigning champion sprinter will make an appearance in Santa Anita’s Santa Monica Stakes (GII), as Unique Bella follows last year’s winner Finest City into the seven-furlong feature wearing the division’s crown. Contested for more than 60 years during the track’s winter/spring season, the Santa Monica can claim a number of standout winners including Gamely, Typecast, Serena’s Song, Affluent, Behaving Badly and Ventura.
This year, four will join Unique Bella in search of the win, but they will all have their hands full with the gray daughter of Tapit, widely considered to be the best sprinting filly in the world.
Saturday’s Southern California weather forecast is beautiful, with sunny skies and highs in the upper 60s. No rain has fallen in the area for weeks, so expect fast and firm all day at The Great Race Place.
I think what needs to be said about Unique Bella has been said. Well-bred, expensive, top connections, champion, Grade 1 winner, Hall of Fame trainer, Hall of Fame jockey, big speed, pace and class numbers, front-runner, stalker, mid-pack runner and then, this year, she became somewhat of a closer.
She’s been working holes in the wind since winning the La Brea Stakes (GI) at this distance on opening day and, yes, while races need to be run before crowning a winner, it’d be hard to imagine anyone beating her.
The Doug O’Neill-trained Mopotism had spent the majority of her career chasing the elite in her division – Unique Bella, Faypien, Abel Tasman, Paradise Woods, Forever Unbridled, It Tiz Well — until her last, where she finally caught a field she could beat and took the one-mile La Canada Stakes (GII) by a head a month ago. At her best, her figures are strong and right with the rivals who will also attempt to dethrone Unique Bella. Her best trip seems to be sitting right behind the speed, so it’s a good bet jockey Mario Gutierrez will be sending from the break to get good position early. She’s a solid choice to complete the exacta.
Auerbach Racing’s Majestic Heat won the Bayakoa Stakes (GII) at Los Alamitos back in December after taking the Betty Grable Stakes at Del Mar, but faltered in the La Canada last out after a wide trip and Mike Smith dropping the whip in the lane. We know she’s better than the fifth she turned in and we also know that, as a closer, the Richard Mandella trainee will love the predicted speedy pace in front of her. As a daughter of Unusual Heat, she might be better suited to two turns, but she has won at this distance and is always competitive. Flavien Prat picks up the mount as Smith sticks with the favorite, which is a bonus as Prat and Mandella have a solid history and win percentage together.
Kathy’s Song is on the dirt for the second time in her career and for the first time in a long time, and is also cutting back in distance. She’s a super-talented filly, but this seems a strange spot for her, especially against the champion.
Stakes winner Shenandoah Queen drew the rail, which isn’t great at this distance, and hasn’t really run any race that suggests she can keep up with the top choice. She may have been an entry to fill the stakes or her connections are hoping she can put it all together to get a graded stakes placing. Either way, she’s in deep.
The Santa Monica has been carded as the day’s fourth race with a post time of 1:34 p.m. PT. First race post time will be noon to accommodate the day’s 10-race card.