Unique Bella Defeats Paradise Woods in Hard-Fought La Brea

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Unique Bella (left) outfinished Paradise Woods to win the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

After a seventh-place finish as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, Don Alberto Stable's Unique Bella delivered on her promise with her first Grade 1 victory Dec. 26 in the $300,000 La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita Park. The La Brea was one of four graded stakes featured on Santa Anita’s highly popular opening-day card, and the first of two consecutive Grade 1 races.

While her Breeders' Cup run saw her set rapid fractions on the lead, in the La Brea jockey Mike Smith took hold of the speedy daughter of Tapit  early in the seven-furlong test. With the change in tactics, Smith got his filly to the outside of a four-way contest for the lead in the backstretch, and Unique Bella wore down two-time Grade 1 winner Paradise Woods in the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length as the 1.30-1 favorite. Final time was 1.21.49.

"I was concerned about going too fast early," Smith said. "That was the problem with the Breeders' Cup. She has been training very aggressively in the mornings, so that was my concern. She relaxed and rated, and was happy with the pace she had to run today. She gave it all she had to get the job done."

Paradise Woods was game in defeat and was easily second-best, finishing 1 ¾ lengths ahead of third-place Mopotism. –Jeremy Balan

City of Light Shines in Malibu

While City of Light settled for second in his past two starts, both at the allowance-optional claiming level, trainer Michael McCarthy saw enough to enter him in the Grade 1 $300,000 Malibu Stakes on Santa Anita Park’s opening-day card.

That aggressive move – making a stakes debut at the highest level – paid off as Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren Jr.'s City of Light scored a front-end victory in the Malibu, a seven-furlong test for 3-year-olds held one race after the La Brea Stakes. The son of Quality Road completed the race in 1:21.21 on a fast track at odds of 7.50-1, scoring by two lengths over California-bred Edwards Going Left.

Starting from the inside post in the field of nine, City of Light broke seventh but would forge through on the inside to claim the lead. He continued to race well inside on the lead under jockey Drayden Van Dyke, and put away a stretch challenge from Edwards Going Left to win going away. East coast shipper Favorable Outcome, winner of the Grade 2 Swale Stakes early this year, finished a length behind Edwards Going Left in third. –Frank Angst

Bowies Hero Takes Mathis Brothers Mile

Earlier on the Dec. 26 card, Bowies Hero nailed down the first graded stakes win of his career in the Grade 2 $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile Stakes.

In early stretch, front-running Kroy opened a two-length advantage as Bowies Hero moved into second, but the Artie Schiller colt lengthened his stride to catch Kroy late and earn a half-length victory.

A three-time stakes winner in Southern California coming into the race for trainer Phil D'Amato, Bowies Hero bounced back from a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby Nov. 25 on the Del Mar turf. He completed Tuesday's one-mile race in 1:33.46 as the 3.40-1 second betting choice.

"Phil D'Amato did a great job in getting him ready. I don't deserve the credit, he does," jockey Kent Desormeaux said. "This horse had fire in his eyes. He refused to lose. At the sixteenth pole, I didn't think we had a chance, but he saw that tail in front of him and he mowed him down." –Frank Angst

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