McDuffee On Bella Bellini’s Past And Future

Bella Bellini
Published: January 18, 2023 02:30 pm EST

Wherever David McDuffee goes, people want to talk about Bella Bellini. Even with the number of successful horses McDuffee has had in the past, he considers the two-time Dan Patch Award-winning trotter the most popular he’s ever owned. The fact McDuffee bred her makes it all the more satisfying.

Over the past two years, the Nifty Norman-trained Bella Bellini has hit the board in 36 of 38 races, winning 20, and earned $2.1 million. In December, she became the fourth female trotter this century to win a Dan Patch Award at ages three and four, joining Atlanta, Ariana G and Stroke Play.

Only nine female trotters in history have won Dan Patch trophies in three different years and the question that might be on the minds of Bella Bellini’s fans this winter is whether the five-year-old mare will take aim at becoming the 10th.

The answer, McDuffee said, is not simple.

“I do want to race her but, unfortunately for trotting mares, there aren’t many races,” said McDuffee. “That makes it more difficult. Obviously, she’s a very valuable mare. It would be exciting to breed her and get some offspring -- that’s definitely on the table.

“But right now, I’m leaning toward trying to put together some kind of a program that makes sense. All horses only have so many races in them. I’m not sure how we’re going to approach the year.”

In 2022, there were eight Grand Circuit events for trotting mares older than four: the Armbro Flight, Six Pack, Steele Memorial, Dayton Oaks, Allerage, Breeders Crown, TVG championship and Miss Versatility Series. There were 12 Grand Circuit races for male trotters older than 4, and it is not uncommon for the top female trotters to take on the boys in those open stakes.

“There are some stakes races for the mares, but they are the same days as the opens,” said McDuffee. “That eliminates half of the opportunities that you might have to race a horse [against the mares].

“I would like to see them consider creating more opportunities by maybe racing the opens on different dates than the races for the mares. It doesn’t mean we would always go, but you would like to have the opportunity. I’m not afraid to go against the boys, but it’s not something you want to do all the time. But they race for more money, and that’s another factor.”

Last year, Bella Bellini faced male rivals in three Grand Circuit races. She won the Hambletonian Maturity (restricted to four-year-olds) and Caesars Trotting Classic and was third in the Cutler Memorial. She also faced the boys in two invitationals, finishing third in the Sebastian K and fifth in the Robert Miecuna.

Her other victories last season included the Breeders Crown Mare Trot, Steele Memorial, Six Pack and TVG Series championship for female trotters. She also captured the Graduate Series final for four-year-old mares.

For the year, she won nine of 19 starts, hit the board nine more times and earned $936,702 USD. Her money total was the fifth highest in history for a trotting mare based solely on purses earned in North America.

“She had a great year,” said McDuffee. “She had to race the boys probably more times than you would ideally like to do, but she was up to the task. It was an exciting year, for sure. I don’t know if I could pick out one race and say it was better than the others. They say it all comes down to the Breeders Crown, and the Breeders Crown was a pretty special race.”

Bella Bellini, a daughter of stallion Bar Hopping, became the first female trotter in eight years to win a Breeders Crown as a three-year-old and transition to the older ranks and win the Mare Trot at age four. The previous horse to accomplish the feat, Bee A Magician, was campaigned by an ownership group that included McDuffee.

In addition to her Breeders Crown win at age three, Bella Bellini’s other victories included the Hambletonian Oaks, Matron Stakes and Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship. She earned $1.11 million.

“She’s put together an impressive resume the last two years,” said McDuffee, who co-bred and raced Bella Bellini’s mom, Bella Dolce, and raced her Dan Patch Award-winning grandmother, Pizza Dolce. “I’m proud of her. She’s a neat horse. She wasn’t particularly impressive as a two-year-old. I probably wouldn’t have kept her if I hadn’t had so much success with the family. Somebody was looking out for me.”

And now everyone is looking out for Bella Bellini, who at the moment is enjoying her offseason at Peninsula Farm in Kentucky.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been associated with a horse that’s had as big a following as she has,” said McDuffee, who was the 2021 U.S. Owner of the Year. “I can’t go anywhere without somebody asking me about Bella Bellini or telling me how they love to watch her race. I’ve had a lot of good horses in the past, but I’ve never had one like that. It’s special.”

(With files from USTA)

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