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Unique Bella wins Santa Maria Stakes in convincing fashion

4-year-old filly wins by nine lengths at Santa Anita

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith has ridden his share of champion female horses, from Azeri to Zenyatta to Songbird. Now he has another star in the making in the 4-year-old filly Unique Bella.

“I’m blessed,” Smith said.

Unique Bella, a royally bred daughter of Tapit, made her 2018 debut on Saturday at Santa Anita, and as first impressions go, all you can say is, “Wow.”

She won by nine lengths in the $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes as the 1-9 favorite going 1 1/16 miles. Not bad for a horse that won the Eclipse Award as the champion female sprinter for 2017.

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“I really don’t think we’ve seen how good she can be,” Smith said. “I’ve surely seen how easily she’s doing things right now. I truly believe we haven’t gotten to the bottom of it. There could even be more in her. I’m excited to see what the future holds for her.”

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has seen improvement in her demeanor, setting the stage for what could be a memorable 4-year-old campaign.

“She’s not quite as anxious as she used to be in the morning or the afternoon,” he said.

Smith is thinking big.

“She can probably step up to the boys at some point,” Smith said. “She’s got a lot to her. She’s built more like a colt.”

Unique Bella has won seven of her nine career starts.

It was quite a day at Santa Anita for Hollendorfer and jockey Flavien Prat. The two combined to win the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes with Kanthaka, a 3-year-old son of Jimmy Creed who went off at odds of 11-1 and won by 3 1/4 lengths over Nero in the seven furlong race.

And Prat came through with the ride of the day in the $100,000 Thunder Road Stakes, sending Om to the front, opening a seven-length lead and then holding off Bowies Hero for a half-length victory in the one mile turf race.

The 6-year-old Om is one of the few horses to own a victory over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Trained by Dan Hendricks, Om last won a race on Dec. 26, 2015. He had lost 12 consecutive races.

“He ran an incredible race,” Prat said. “Once he got the lead I was able to just let him go. Had great speed and I knew that once we got on the inside he would just carry it through.”

Kanthaka benefited from a speed duel between Mr. Jagermeister and Ax Man, the 2-5 favorite. Ax Man faded to fourth.

“My horse got tired, but he never got a breather,” jockey Drayden Van Dyke said of Ax Man. “I would completely throw this race out.”

Kanthaka, owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, is two for three in his short career.

“He gave me a great run,” Prat said. “He broke like a bullet, but then we had quite a lot of speed in front of us. So he sat really nicely behind the speed and made a nice run around the turn and after that it was done.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @latsondheimer


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