Mon, 02/11/2019 - 09:26

It wasn't a romp, geared down and cruising to the wire like she's done before, but Kaleem Shah's Bellafina was still impressive in a very different way Feb. 9 in the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.

Unlike her four previous graded wins, where she's mostly had things her own way, the Simon Callaghan-trained Quality Road filly had multiple factors working against her in the one-mile test.

It started with a below-average break from post 3 in the field of five, but she recovered quickly and moved to the front of the pack with little effort as the field entered the first turn.

In the backstretch run, familiar rival Mother Mother never let Bellafina get more than a length in front and pressed the 1-10 favorite on the outside. After fractions of :23.13 and :46.33, Mother Mother upped her challenge, but Bellafina put her away through six furlongs in 1:10.31.

Mother Mother's effort set the table for a pair of closers, however, and though Bellafina opened up a 1 1/2-length lead with a furlong to run, she began to lose momentum. Second choice Enaya Alrabb was the greatest threat late, and 19-1 longshot Calf Moon Bay also loomed after she trailed the field early.

But Bellafina dug in under jockey Flavien Prat and prevailed by three-quarters of a length over Enaya Alrabb in a final time of 1:35.99 over a track rated good to keep her undefeated stakes record in Southern California intact. Her only two losses came in a July maiden special weight sprint at Los Alamitos Race Course and in the Nov. 2 Tito's Handmade Vodka Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Churchill Downs.

"She was good as always," Prat said. "I thought Mother Mother would show more speed with the blinkers, but it seemed like everybody was waiting and watching me, so I tried to bide my time and wait as long as I could. … As soon as she saw (Enaya Alrabb), she re-engaged."

Both Callaghan and Shah described the main track, which took a few hours of rain in the early morning hours Saturday, as "sticky" and felt the surface was not ideal for Bellafina.

"I was a little worried that she was in front, but I left it to Flavien because horses have been closing today and winning, so we may have won despite the bias," Callaghan said. "I think maybe that's why (Enaya Alrabb) was finishing so well at the end.

"We'll enjoy this and take a deep breath. It's never easy, but we got the win. I think we'll definitely go on from here to the (grade 1 Santa Anita) Oaks (April 6)."

Enaya Racing's Enaya Alrabb came up just short again—she was a close runner-up in the Dec. 8 Starlet Stakes (G1)—but jockey Mike Smith was happy with her performance.

"She ran too good to lose," Smith said of the Doug O'Neill trainee. "I had a good chance, but those champions—you gotta really run to beat them. I think if we take the blinkers off, she'll give us what she's got when we need it. It's in there."

Calf Moon Bay completed the trifecta, 2 3/4 lengths behind Enaya Alrabb, and was followed by Mother Mother and Tomlin to complete the order of finish.

Bred in Kentucky by JSM Equine out of the Malibu Moon mare Akron Moon, Bellafina now has $828,000 in purse earnings. She was an $800,000 purchase by Shah from Wavertree Stables' consignment to Fasig-Tipton's The Gulfstream Sale last year.

SOURCE: BloodHorse 2/9/19