Del Mar Barn Notes: Unique Bella Good After Stakes Win & More

(Unique Bella / Photo Courtesy of Del Mar)

From the Media Team at Del Mar:


Unique Bella was a 2-5 favorite on the morning line and 1-10 when the gates opened for Sunday’s Grade I $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes.

And the 4-year-old champion filly lived up to those expectations despite losing a shoe the first time past the wire in the 1 1/16-mile event, despite feeling some competitive heat in the stretch from runner-up LaForce as a four-length lead at the top of the stretch dwindled to a half-length at the finish. Clearly it wasn’t Unique Bella’s best race, and jockey Mike Smith said so.

But as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November at Churchill Downs, it served its purpose. And when the details came out, it evidenced the worthiness of the daughter of Tapit, owned by the Don Alberto Stable of Fernando Diaz Valdes of Lexington, Ky., and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, having her name on a list of Hirsch champions with Azeri, Zenyatta, Beholder and Stellar Wind.

“She must have turned her (left front) foot a little and stepped on it (right front) coming out of the gate,” Hollendorfer assistant Dan Ward said Wednesday morning. On Ward’s cell phone was one of the many images capturing the dangling or falling shoe that hit the internet.

“We were lucky that it came off clean the first time under the wire and she was able to get the job done without it.”

Said Smith: “She was a little uncomfortable (because of it). When she heard (La Force) coming, she surged again. This wasn’t her best, but it was good enough.”

Unique Bella was comfortable in her outdoor pen Wednesday morning. She’s likely to do some light training at Del Mar over the remaining five weeks of the meeting, but her next start will likely be at Santa Anita in the fall.


Lava Man, the 2006 TVG Pacific Classic winner who was back for the first time at Del Mar as a stable pony in the barn of trainer Doug O’Neill, underwent successful surgery on Tuesday at the San Luis Rey Downs Equine Hospital and is well on the road to recovery.

On his Twitter account Wednesday, O’Neill provided an update: “Lave Man underwent colic surgery to correct a large colon displacement. He stood beautifully and is back in his stall to begin the recovery process. We want to thank the veterinarians and staff for their quick assessment and treatment. Thanks to all for the good wishes.”

O’Neill said the now 17-year-old horse, a $50,000 claim at Del Mar in 2004 who went on to earn $5,170,103 – the most ever by a horse following a claim – will soon be headed to a farm to complete recovery, although the farm has yet to be determined.


Entries will close and post positions were drawn later Wednesday for Saturday’s Grade II $200,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes while Thursday is the deadline for entries and draw for Sunday’s Grade III $150,000 La Jolla Handicap and Grade II $200,000 Sorrento Stakes.

Racing officials listed the following nominated horses, in alphabetical order, as possibles or probables for the races.

Yellow Ribbon – Ancient Secret (trainer Phil D’Amato), Beau Recall (Simon Callaghan), Cambodia (Tom Proctor), Hallie Belle (Michael Stidham), Madame Stripes (Neil Drysdale), Pantsonfire (Richard Baltas), Queen Blossom (Richard Baltas), Sassy Little Lila (Richard Mandella), Sophie P (Jim Cassidy), Storm the Hill (Phil D’Amato), Tisbutadream (Ben Cecil) and Vasilika (Jerry Hollendorfer).

La Jolla – Afleet Ascent (Jerry Hollendorfer), Arawak (Doug O’Neill), Blame the Rider (Doug O’Neill), Californiagoldrush (Neil Drysdale), Desert Stone (Richard Baltas), Move Over (John Sadler), Restrainedvengence (Val Brinkerhoff) and River Boyne (Jeff Mullins).

Sorrento – Der Lu (Bob Baffert), Dichotomy (Doug O’Neill), Dragic (Wesley Ward), Katieleigh (Kathy Ritvo), Lady Lucy (Phil D’Amato), Madison’s Quarters (Ian Wilkes), Reflect (J. Keith Desormeaux), Stirred (Michael McCarthy), Summerland (Philip Hall) and True Validity (Simon Callaghan).


When Mike Moran was informed by his longtime friend, bloodstock agent Nick Hines, that he had just purchased a horse for him at the Keeneland September Sale in 2016 for $1,700, the veteran of more than 20 years of racehorse ownership had a question.

“I asked him ‘Does this horse have polio?’” Moran said recently.

Many longtime racing followers were unaware that the gavel could fall on any thoroughbred for that low a price at one of the most prestigious sales in the country. So Moran’s concern about the animal’s health, even in jest, was understandable.

But there was the now 3-year-old California-bred son of Slew’s Tiznow going wire to wire in a 2 ½-length score under Rafael Bejarano a week ago (Wednesday, July 25) to break his maiden in his second start, the first being a runner-up in June at Golden Gate Fields, to increase his career earnings to $20,000, or nearly 12 times the purchase price.

There was no reserve (minimum price) on the horse by breeder Joe LaCombe, on the horse that Hines picked out and the big-personality former trainer turned TVG analyst known as “Sarge,” said he was surprised when the bidding stopped when it  did.”

“(Hoss Cartwright) had scope and presence and a wonderful disposition,” Hines recalled. “He wasn’t perfect in terms of conformation, but I thought he had potential to grow out of the few things that might have been a concern.”

The name, Moran said, was inspired from the dam-side pedigree. Carson’s Dane is a Carson City mare. Carson City in frontier times was the general location of the TV series “Bonanza” about rancher Ben Cartwright and his sons, among them big, easy-going and lovable “Hoss,” played by Dan Blocker.

“I can’t tell you how many people have called or come up to me and said that’s a great name,” Moran said.

Hoss Cartwright is trained by Andy Mathis, who confesses to be as surprised as anyone about the $1,700 bargain.

“I was surprised when I first saw the price,” Mathis said. “You see Keeneland, you think (Bob) Baffert and horses going for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But he’s a good looking horse and he can run a little bit,” Mathis said. “We’re not sure what’s next. We’d obviously like to run him back here. But we’re just going to take our time and pick a spot where, hopefully, he can win.”


Monday morning, two days after being paraded here in his last racetrack experience, trainer Bob Baffert brought Triple Crown winner out for pictures and poses with a sizeable group of fans, followers and photographers.

At around midnight Wednesday morning, a van carrying Justify, accompanied by Baffert assistant Jim Barnes, departed the Del Mar stable area for Ontario airport and a 2 a.m flight to Kentucky and WinStar Farm where Justify will begin retirement and an eventual career at stud.


Joe Talamo was accorded individual honors but the overall winner was the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund during a jockey Karaoke contest Sunday night at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

Talamo was the winner over Mike Smith, Gary Stevens and Rafael Bejarano and others in a decision rendered by the panel of judges – Del Mar Thoroughbred Club CEO Joe Harper, trainer Doug O’Neill, bloodstock agent Nick Cosato and sports talk radio host Scott Kaplan as $50,000 was raised for the PDJF.

A similar event was held at Saratoga on Monday.

CLOSERS – Joel Rosario, now New York-based but a three-time Del Mar jockey champion (2009-11), has been chosen to ride Accelerate in the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic on August 18.  “Just my call,” trainer John Sadler said Wednesday morning. “We have a good history together and he’s one of the top riders in the country.” The mount on Accelerate came open when jockey Victor Espinoza fractured a vertebra in his neck 10 days ago in a training hours spill. Hospitalized through much of last week and in a rehabilitation facility since then, Hall of Fame rider Espinoza is expected to be released to his San Diego home on Thursday, his agent, Brian Beach, said. Espinoza will be wearing a neck brace for several weeks and will not return for the rest of the season … My Boy Jack, nominated to Sunday’s La Jolla Handicap, is out for the year with a bone chip in an ankle that will require surgery. A three-time stakes winner,  the colt was fifth in the Kentucky Derby and eighth of nine in the Grade I Belmont Derby on July 7, after which the injury was detected … Paradise Woods, the 4-year-old stakes-winning filly owned by Rancho Santa Fe’s Pam and Marty Wygod and Herman Sarkowsky, will be sidelined for a few months due to bone bruising detected Friday. The winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks and Grade I Zenyatta in 2017 was 0-for-3 in 2018 and finished sixth as the 2-1 favorite in the Osunitas Stakes here on July 20 in her first start on turf … The inner rail on the turf course was moved out to its 24-foot position. … Selected works from 314 officially timed over the last three mornings: Monday – Eskino Roses (4f, :47.60); Tuesday – Dr. Dorr (4f, :49.00), Isotherm (4f, :50.80), Mubtaahij (4f, :49.00), Offshore (4f, :52.20), Amboseli 5f, 1:02.00), Morse Code (6f, 1:11.60); Wednesday – McKinzie (3f, :37.60), Operandi (4f, :47.80), Abel Tasman (5f, 1:01.40), Battle of Midway (5f, :59.80), Marley’s Freedom (5f, 1:01.40), Vale Dori (5f, 1:01.40).


Jockey Standings

(Current Through Sunday, July 29, 2018 Inclusive)

JockeyMts1st2nd3rdWin%In-money%Money Won
Flavien Prat43107423%49%$678,780
Drayden Van Dyke3793524%46%$669,495
Mario Gutierrez3077323%57%$362,140
Geovanni Franco4473616%36%$244,947
Tyler Baze5168512%37%$508,114
Heriberto Figueroa2754119%37%$123,655
Asa Espinoza3153316%35%$182,750
Rafael Bejarano464779%39%$304,718
Evin Roman3442312%26%$205,605
Mike Smith1241033%42%$330,280


Trainer Standings

(Current Through Sunday, July 29, 2018 Inclusive)

TrainerSts1st2nd3rdWin%In-money%Money Won
Jerry Hollendorfer33107130%55%$534,279
Peter Miller36103228%42%$508,315
Doug F. O’Neill4379416%47%$355,450
Philip D’Amato3854413%34%$497,543
John W. Sadler2251123%32%$446,079
Bob Baffert1433221%57%$219,470
William E. Morey1131127%45%$120,120
Brian J. Koriner1631119%31%$192,915
Val Brinkerhoff830038%38%$107,670
Richard Baltas312456%35%$189,515

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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