The question is inevitable when a talented filly puts down a dominating performance in a Kentucky Oaks preps race. Ever consider running against the boys?
And the reaction of the trainer, in this case Simon Callaghan, is always something akin to horror.
Owner Kaleem Shah didn’t rule it out but it looks like, at least for now, Bellafina will stay running in the 3-year-old filly division.
“It’s too early to talk about that now,” Shah said. “There’s always a possibility down the road, I suppose. But for now, we’ll keep her against fillies.”
After gathering his breath, Callaghan put it in perspective.
“It’s a good sign when they ask you that,” Callaghan said.
Bellafina is a very big, muscular filly who could easily be confused for a colt. Her 8½-length victory in the Grade 2 $200,000 Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita on Sunday erased any doubts about her ability after a disappointing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November.
On Sunday, she broke sharply, poked her head in front after four furlongs of the seven-furlong race, and then was effortlessly ridden to the wire by Flavien Prat.
“Coming out of the gate, I really didn’t know what to expect,” Prat said. “I knew there was speed outside of me. She broke well, relaxed and dropped the bit around the turn and then she took off.”
There was a small bit of concern coming into this race because of her uncharacteristic lackluster performance in the Breeders’ Cup. Callaghan attributed it to the fact she was in a breeding cycle. Normally, horses have their cycles from the spring until fall. But, November is very unusual, so everyone was surprised.
But, Bellafina couldn’t have looked any better in her first race back.
“I think she would have won the race today if it was five, six, seven [furlongs], a mile or even a mile and an eighth,” Callaghan said. “She was just the best filly.”
Bellafina paid $2.80, $2.10 and $2.10. Mother Mother was second and Tomlin, a shipper from Northern California, was third. The remainder of the five-horse field was Reflect and Sold It.
“She wasn’t even [breathing heavy] and was just standing after the race,” Callaghan said. “She was so composed. It was like it was nothing for her. We’ve always thought a lot of her and have made no secret of that. It was nice to see her put on that sort of performance.”
Bellafina is a finalist for the 2-year-old filly Eclipse Award. Some of Shah’s contingent were even lobbying that this dominating performance should get her back in the game. Two problems: The Eclipse Award was for last year and the voting has already taken place.
It's extremely unlikely she will be anything but third. Finalist Jaywalk has won four in a row, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. The other finalist, Newspaperofrecord, is undefeated in three races, all on turf, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Callaghan wasn’t saying what Bellafina’s next race will be, but offered some hints.
“The Santa Anita Oaks is our first main objective,” Callaghan said. “There are two logical races before the Santa Anita Oaks. We’re in a really good position. We don’t have to run the next one, but there’s a fairly good chance we do.”
Callaghan was likely referring to the Grade 2 Las Virgenes on Feb. 10, going a mile, and the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel on March 10, which ups to 1 1/16 miles. The Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks is April 6. If all goes well, you could expect her to be in the Kentucky Oaks on May 3. Sunday’s win gave her 10 qualifying points, not near enough to get her in the Kentucky Oaks, but with possibly three more races, it’s a real good start.
Shah is looking even beyond the Santa Anita or Kentucky Oaks.
“I’m here to get to a Breeders’ Cup race,” Shah said of the November races that will be held at Santa Anita this year. “I keep telling Simon that. We went in so confident going into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies [last year] but it just wasn’t meant to be. It was not her day. Obviously, she needed to come back and show us what she did [Sunday], to validate that she is among the best fillies in the country.”