Finest City attempts to successfully negotiate the longest distance she's ever traveled on dirt in Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile and an eighth.
She'll have to conquer streaking Vale Dori while she's at it. The five-year-old Argentine-bred mare trained by Bob Baffert has won three straight G2 events, and four races in a row, all on or close to the lead and all by daylight margins.
Trainer Ian Kruljac feels Finest City is up to the task, even though the five-year-old daughter of City Zip is coming off two seven furlong victories and has never run further than one mile on dirt, finishing third behind champions Beholder and Stellar Wind in the Grade I Vanity Mile at Santa Anita last June.
Finest City would go on to win the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 5 and earn an Eclipse Award as best in her division.
“We'll be close to the pace, but if she wants to be on the lead, she will be,” said Ian, 28-year-old son of trainer Eric Kruljac. “If (supplemental entry) Perfect Pic wants to go, I'm sure we'll let her go.
“Hopefully, we're the fastest horse in the race at the end of it.”
Finest City has been ridden by Mike Smith in her last two races, but with the Hall of Fame jockey at Oaklawn Park Saturday to ride Sham Stakes runner-up American Anthem in the Rebel Stakes, Kruljac has Tyler Baze back on Finest City.
Baze has ridden her twice, finishing a distant second in an overnight race at Los Alamitos in December of 2015 and third in the Vanity.
Owned by Seltzer Thoroughbreds, Finest City came into her own late last year, following her seven furlong Breeders' Cup victory at 8-1 with a comfortable 3 ¾-length win Jan. 21 in the Grade II Santa Monica Stakes, also at seven furlongs, as the 2-5 favorite.
Overall, the chestnut mare bred in Pennsylvania has a 5-4-2 record with earnings of $1,045,594.
“She's been more than a surprise,” Kruljac said. “She's been a blessing.”
The field for the Santa Margarita, race nine of 10: Autumn Flower, Martin Pedroza; Vale Dori, Rafael Bejarano; Finest City, Tyler Baze; Show Stealer, Kent Desormeaux; Lady Tapit, Mario Gutierrez; Perfect Pic, Santiago Gonzalez; Wild At Heart, Flavien Prat; and Estrechada, Stewart Elliott.
Jon White's morning line for Saturday's Santa Margarita from the rail out: Autumn Flower (20-1), Vale Dori (9-5), Finest City (8-5), Show Stealer (8-1), Lady Tapit (20-1), Perfect Pic (5-1), Wild At Heart (6-1) and Estrechada (15-1).
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