2011: Unusual Heat's Superfecta
Going into Santa Anita's fifth race on January 6, 2011, there were only two certainties regarding the outcome. First, being that it was a maiden special weight contest, there would be a guaranteed first-time winner after the field traversed a mile over the Great Race Place's El Camino Real turf course. Second, every horse competing was either a California-bred or California-sired maiden filly or mare, so a horse with ties to the Golden State by birth was going to take a walk to the winners' circle.
Nine horses entered the starting gate, the favorite at even money being Bitt a Heat, a daughter of California-based stallion Unusual Heat. He was coming off a third in a six furlong maiden special weight race on Hollywood Park's turf course three weeks earlier, closing ground at the end. It was not the first time Bitt a Heat had tried routing; she took third going a mile and one-sixteenth at Hollywood Park the previous spring. And with noted rider Garrett Gomez back aboard, Bitt a Heat retained a strong and talented jockey. That was important, for Bitt a Heat liked to come off the pace and make a run.
The start of the race saw Favoloso take the lead before the first visit around the wire. Closely pursued by Bila Shaka, Phi Beta Heat and Unknown Heat, Favoloso set a moderate tempo early, going 23.78 for the first quarter. Bitt a Heat had a change in tactics, staying closer to the pace than usual. After she straightened onto the backstretch, Bitt a Heat was within a few lengths of the leader in what became a strung out field.
As Favoloso continued guiding the field, the front quartet was racing close together. Bitt a Heat was by herself in fifth, and the remaining four of Orfano, Mo Bettah, Sittytwofitty and Starlite Event were in the back. The half-mile went by in 47.91. Favoloso went into the far turn still in first, but Unknown Heat moved up to take her and Bila Shaka on. Phi Beta Heat was still with the lead group as well, and coming up to challenge was none other than Bitt a Heat. As the top five reached the top of the stretch, the race was wide open as Santa Anita's patrons looked on.
By the eighth pole, Bila Shaka was unable to keep up with her rivals. It was now down to Phi Beta Heat, Unknown Heat, Bitt a Heat and Favoloso. Then it became a battle between just Phi Beta Heat and Unknown Heat. Favoloso continued running on the inside but had nothing for her rivals. Bitt a Heat kept going, trying to get up in time for the win but not matching the top two.
Unknown Heat put her head in front for just the briefest of moments. But then, Phi Beta Heat called upon more resolve, catching Unknown Heat and pushing forward as the crowd cheered in the stands. That last burst of speed paid off, for Phi Beta Heat captured the race at almost 21-1 odds in a time of 1:36.84 for the mile. Bitt a Heat and Unknown Heat put together a photo finish for second, which ultimately went to the former, and Favoloso came in fourth.
What happened at that moment was something truly spectacular and rare. The top four in that maiden special weight race: Phi Beta Heat, Bitt a Heat, Unknown Heat and Favoloso, were all sired by Unusual Heat. Years later, it appeared those who witnessed the race live saw something historic. When Unusual Heat passed away in 2017, it was reported on Unusual Heat's official website (now defunct) that he is "the only known sire to have a 'Superfecta' of runners in a Santa Anita Allowance Race when four of his daughters ran 1-2-3-4 in a Maiden Special Weight on January 6, 2011." It was just an ordinary Thursday at the start of the program, but the day produced an extraordinary achievement that was clearly rare, if not unprecedented.
The moment was made all the more poignant given who trained Phi Beta Heat. That man was Barry Abrams, who also conditioned Unusual Heat. Only Abrams could have been the winning trainer for the occasion, and that was as it should have been. Abrams also trained Unknown Heat, giving him half the superfecta in what was unquestionably one of most unique moments of his career. And there is no doubt Abrams felt an abundance of pride towards his former charge for siring the top four finishers in the race that day.
The same can be said for the Auerbach family, who co-owned Unusual Heat. Many wins came Unusual Heat's way as a stallion, and by extension, the Auerbachs. But this was certainly one of the grandest accomplishments the stallion and his ownership experienced. And it could be a long time before that is ever seen again.
Handicappers who picked Phi Beta Heat to win were certainly jovial as well, as were those who had the top four finishers in their exotics. They got to cash their bets, pocket some money, and call themselves winners for at least that one race. But the biggest winner of all was Unusual Heat, for he truly owned the fifth race that winter afternoon.
"the only known sire..." Author Unknown. "All Time Leading California Sire Unusual Heat Passes Away at 27," CARMA, https://www.carma4horses.org/archives/champion-california-sire-unusual-heats-passes-away-27 (press release originally posted on unusualheat.com).