Why go for the Lilies when you could Run for the Roses?

I always knew that Unique Bella would be a special horse. When I got online and looked through the pedigrees of the horses in Keeneland’s 2015 September Yearling Sale, I was immediately impressed with her bloodlines, and marked her down as one to watch for the future. When she became old enough to hit the races, I was not disappointed. In her short career of only four races, Unique Bella has proven to be brilliant, intrepid, blazingly fast, and as her name implies, unique. It’s not often that a filly of her caliber comes along, so it wasn’t difficult for her to capture the attention of the public. She has shown the ability to run her rivals off their feet, while seemingly putting little effort into beating them. After only three wins it has become clear that this division of three year old fillies is no match for Unique Bella. In fact, it isn’t far-fetched to say that she is the best three year old this year of either gender, as I have yet to see any of the colts string together the breathtaking, dominating victories that this filly has been consistently delivering.

With spring fast approaching, visions of the Kentucky Derby come to mind. When I think of the Kentucky Derby, naturally I picture the best three year old horse leading the way down the stretch of Churchill Downs and claiming those coveted roses. And this year the best three year old, in my opinion, is Unique Bella. However, it is unlikely that she will be pointed toward the Kentucky Derby as her trainer remains steadfast in his decision to keep his filly with her own sex. I will respect whatever decision her connections make for her because they know her better than anyone, and I know that they will always put her best interest first. But I just can’t help but wonder why anyone with a horse of her level wouldn’t want a chance to win a race as important as the Kentucky Derby. A horse like Unique Bella is rare, and in my eyes she has the qualities of a Derby winner.

For starters, Unique Bella is a beast of a horse. She towers over her foes both figuratively and literally. She is by no means a dainty, little lady. At nearly 17 hands tall, she’s larger than most of the boys, and as she showed in the Santa Ysabel, she has no problem bulldozing through the competition. I can’t see her having any issues in a twenty horse field. If the boys try to shake her up in the Derby, she’ll just plow right through them. She wins her races with fast times and does it easily, appearing to thrive with each start. Not only is this horse built for this task but she was bred for it. Unique Bella is by the leading sire in North America, Tapit, and the royal blood doesn’t stop there. Her Dam is the Unbridled’s Song mare, Unrivaled Belle, who won the prestigious Breeders Cup Ladies Classic in 2010. Unique Bella was born to do big things, and while it’s unlikely that we’ll see her run against the boys, it’s still fun to dream. After all, the girls have been able to beat the boys before.  

Just think of all the riveting, historical moments in this sport that wouldn’t exist if the top girls never took on the boys. We would have never seen Winning Colors show the boys how it’s done when she gallantly showed the way around that historical oval, leading every step of the way in the 1988 Kentucky Derby. Despite enduring the grind of setting the pace in a race of that caliber, she still handled herself with grace and might, leaving every one of her male counterparts chasing.

And who could forget the epic battle between the indomitable Curlin and the filly, Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes? The odds were instantly against that filly when she stumbled coming out of the starting gate. However, a stumble wasn’t enough to falter the performance of the undaunted filly. Like a true champion, she recomposed herself and ran her race, and what a race it was. When a four horse charge began its surge into the long stretch, Rags to Riches got the first jump on her competition, but Curlin wasn’t far behind. As Rags to Riches accelerated down the lane, the mighty Curlin adamantly set chase, matching strides with her. It became obvious that he wasn’t going to hand over the victory without a fight. The tenacious pair dueled ferociously down the stretch in what Tom Durkin dubbed as the “battle of the sexes”. The unyielding duo went at each other relentlessly for the entire length of the stretch, charging rapidly toward the finish line, fueled by unwavering determination. With a gutsy and decisive thrust of her head, Rags to Riches gained the lead. It was a desperately short advantage, but she wasn’t going to give it up. Rags to Riches vanquished her stubborn yet valiant foe, and became the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in over a century.

And what about the valorous three year old campaign by Rachel Alexandra in 2009 when she soundly defeated every single male she faced. The daring filly stole the glory from the boys in the Preakness Stakes, the Haskell Invitational, and the historic Woodward Stakes. Throughout her brazen journey, Rachel Alexandra took down the likes of that year’s Kentucky Derby winner, the Belmont Stakes winner, and even older males. She was an unstoppable force in 2009 and will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats because of it.

Other great mares who more than held their own against the boys such as Zenyatta, Beholder, and Tepin come to mind. Their talent and ability was always obvious, but when they proved they could run just as strongly with the boys, it exalted them to higher ranks in the eyes of many. They are proof that the girls can run with the boys. At the end of the day, a fast horse is a fast horse, and if a filly shows the potential to compete at the highest level, why not go for the greater glory?

This year’s crop of three year old colts has been plagued with injury and inconsistency. With her massive stride and undeniable will to win, I wholeheartedly believe that Unique Bella could shut down any challenge from the colts in the Kentucky Derby. I completely understand why her connections want to be careful with her, since horses like her are rare, and winning the Kentucky Derby would be a challenging feat for any horse, regardless of gender. However, the arduous task of winning America’s most prestigious race is part of its lure. Maybe I’m just being biased since I’ve been a fan of this horse ever since she was a baby, but I strongly believe that if given the chance, this filly can do great things.   


By: Chelsea Lowman 


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