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With Unique Bella retired, Battle of Midway carries ‘high hopes’


Unique Bella’s sudden retirement over the summer, as the filly exited a work with a bone chip, coincided with Breeders’ Cup winner Battle of Midway’s return. Out went a champion, and in came another for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

They’re not yet done talking about Unique Bella around the barn, not after the daughter of Tapit won three of her four starts in 2018, suffering her only defeat in Oaklawn’s Apple Blossom (G1) when she broke poorly.

Last year’s Eclipse Award-winning sprinter could be in line for another championship, with the decision seemingly between Unique Bella and Abel Tasman, a 4-year-old who beat tougher fields but whose form tailed off to end the season.

“Of course, from a very, very prejudiced point of view, in my mind I feel like we should have a good shot at it based upon all that happened this year,” Hollendorfer said of Unique Bella, who will breed with Medaglia d’Oro in 2019. “We think we have a good chance to win, and some of the folks that I talked to back East thought the same thing, and they have a vote.”

While Hollendorfer waits out a decision, he has turned a focus to campaigning the barn’s current top older horse.

Battle of Midway, returned to training after found subfertile at stud, won his third start off the shelf Oct. 28, Santa Anita’s Comma to the Top Stakes. Next on the 4-year-old’s schedule is Sunday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Native Diver at Del Mar.

“He’s doing well,” Hollendorfer said, “and we hope he’ll be a big horse for us in the coming year.”

Not one to spot his horses too far in advance, Hollendorfer is confident Battle of Midway will progress to the Dec. 26 San Antonio Stakes (G2) on opening day at Santa Anita. From there, the Pegasus World Cup has been discussed as an option along with a trip overseas for Meydan’s Godolphin Mile.

Battle of Midway, by Smart Strike, needed his comeback race. He then shipped to Belmont Park and ran fifth in the Kelso Handicap (G2) on Sept. 22.

“I thought he got compromised down on the inside,” Hollendorfer said. “Now, I’m not making an excuse. I’m giving a reason. I think the horse broke well, and if our rider would have gone on with him and made the front end he could have won that race, too.

What Hollendorfer has seen in the mornings — the old Battle of Midway — translated to the afternoon in the Comma to the Top, which he won by a widening 4 1/2 lengths going a mile.

“We were happy with the way he drew away at the end,” the trainer said. “It’s nice to see a horse that’s coming off a long layoff finally win.

“…We have high hopes for Battle of Midway.”

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