Unique Bella vs. Paradise Woods: Racing's new favorite rivalry?

January 05, 2018 03:14am

Not since Blind Luck and Havre de Grace have we seen a rivalry like one that developed in the Santa Anita stretch last week. More than six years after the last matchup between those greats in an epic Delaware Handicap, we now have Unique Bella versus Paradise Woods following their battle in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes.

Unique Bella
had all the makings of a great champion and looked poised to seize that opportunity until a case of bad shins struck, sending the blue-blooded filly to the sidelines before the 2017 Santa Anita Oaks. A winning return in the Grade 3 LA Woman Stakes in early October made the gray the one to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, but after sent in speedy early fractions, the daughter of Tapit failed to fire late that day.

Unique Bella’s misfortune early in the campaign opened up the California 3-year-old filly ranks. And the horse that went on to win the Santa Anita Oaks was not
Abel Tasman, the eventual Kentucky Oaks winner, but rather Paradise Woods.

Paradise Woods displayed breathtaking speed that left her opponents spinning in the Santa Anita Oaks. Unfortunately for her, that trait became her undoing in subsequent efforts, until trainer Richard Mandella taught the filly how to rate. That newly acquired skill led to a win in the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes, and a near miss in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff behind 
Unbridled Forever and Abel Tasman.

At this point, both fillies were then pointed to the La Brea -- o
ne looking for redemption, the other hoping to prove recent good form was far from a fluke.

Luckily for us onlookers, both showed up to offer one heck of a showdown.

Into the stretch, Paradise Woods edged clear of Princess Karen and had a jump on Unique Bella to the tune of two lengths. Just like in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Paradise Woods had clear sailing for the finish line until Unique Bella was given a crack or two of the whip. Finding another gear, the big gray drew alongside of Paradise Woods and coasted clear, winning by a measured three quarters of a length.

The final time was 1:21.49, but what was more impressive was the way both fillies were able to make an early move into a blistering pace and sustain it through the stretch, posting faster second quarters than their opening fraction.

From there, both fillies closed out their final furlong strongly, but with Unique Bella getting the last say. She concluded her final eighth in an impressive 12.64 seconds despite running 27 feet farther than Paradise Woods, who came home in 12.85 seconds.

Neither filly may end up winning an Eclipse for their efforts in the La Brea, but given they're pointing to a rematch in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes, it could be that the race sets them up for a fun rivalry.


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Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college, she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at Virginia Intermont College and then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010, Laura began writing for Horse Racing Nation and has also contributed to Lady and the Track, TwinSpires and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter.

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