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East Rutherford, NJ — Bella Bellini came from mid-pack on the backstretch, advanced three-wide around the final turn, and stormed home to victory in 1:52.1 in Saturday’s (Aug. 7) $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, for 3-year-old female trotters, at The Meadowlands.
Iteration finished second, 2-1/2 lengths behind, and Contested Hanover was third.
Dexter Dunn drove Bella Bellini for trainer Richard “Nifty” Norman and breeder-owner David McDuffee. It was Dunn’s first Oaks triumph and third for Norman, who won with Personal Style in 2012 and Bee A Magician in 2013. McDuffee was part of the Bee A Magician ownership group.
“It doesn’t get old, I’ll tell you that,” Norman said. “Hopefully, we win many more. It’s great fun. I love it. I love this race.”
Flawless Country led the field to the opening quarter in :26.4 before Darlene Hanover took the top spot in a :56.4 half. Iteration, who started from post 10, came first-over and was the leader at three-quarters in 1:24.4.
Lady Chaos and Bella Bellini followed Iteration in the outside flow, with Dunn timing his charge to victory.
“She’s so fast; I just didn’t want to do too much with her early,” Dunn said. “I knew even third-over that she’s got so much speed, I was confident she could pick them up. There was a bit of shuffling the first quarter. I followed Lady Chaos everywhere and it worked out. I was out of trouble, out of that early speed, and she felt great.
“Coming around the last turn, I was just telling myself to be patient. Lady Chaos started to get tired, so we made our move. She picked them up within a furlong, and the rest is history.”
Bella Bellini’s last quarter was :26.3, equaling the fastest last quarter in the race’s history. Last week, she finished second to Lady Chaos by a head in their Oaks elimination.
“The trip worked out great,” Norman said. “We just wanted to be in a position where she could use her speed, and that’s exactly what happened. I think the whole team did a better job having her ready today. She was more comfortable on the track and Dexter drove her great. It was a team effort.”
Bella Bellini, who paid $3.00 to win as the 1-2 favorite, is a daughter of Bar Hopping out of Bella Dolce. She was winless in seven starts at 2 and has won seven of 11 starts this year. She is the first filly to go without a victory as a 2-year-old and win the Oaks since Jalopy in 2005.
“Nifty Norman is probably the perfect guy to train for me because we both have a lot of patience,” McDuffee said. “We knew she had some ability, and Nifty did a tremendous job with her. I’m as happy for him as I am for myself.”
With the Oaks win, Bella Bellini pushed her career earnings to $386,983.
“I don’t do a lot of breeding, but when I do, I follow my families pretty closely, the ones I like,” McDuffee said. “This family has been so good to me over the many, many years. So, this is pretty special.
“I’ve been in the business for a long time, and you know it’s the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. You don’t always get the jubilation we had today. It’s a very special feeling.”