Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint victor Finest City showed her class Saturday, kicking off her 2017 campaign with an easy 3 1/2 length win in the Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes. Owned by Seltzer Thoroughbreds, the 5-year-old daughter of City Zip was ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith on the afternoon before the mare would contend for an Eclipse Award in a ceremony in South Florida. Trained by Ian Kruljac, the mare covered seven furlongs over the wet fast Santa Anita main track in 1:21.49.
“Breaking from the one hole in this slop, you gotta get outta there,” Smith said. “She's never had this kinda dirt in her face and I certainly didn't want her to get any today. My only concern with being away as long as she has (Nov. 5) is that we'd probably have to use her from the rail, but I saw she's been working really well. I knew she's handled the grass and she's got a real athletic way of going, so I thought she could probably handle this surface today. Ian's done a great job getting her ready.”
Both Finest City and Fantastic Style were very quick out of the starting gate, but Smith allowed his mare to take over the lead by the time they had reached the quarter pole. Finest City held a half-length advantage over Fantastic Style through fractions of :22.15 and :44.26, with Sheer Pleasure several lengths back in third.
Rounding the far turn, Fantastic Style drew even with Finest City. Once the pair straightened into the lane, Finest City sprinted away from her rival easily, drawing away in hand to win by 3 1/2 lengths on the wire. Fantastic Style had to settle for second, with Sheer Pleasure third.
“This could be a once-in-a-lifetime day (should FinestCity be named Eclipse Award female sprint champion of 2016 tonight at GulfstreamPark),” the younger Kruljac said. “It's awesome to share it with my father (trainer Eric, who is in Florida for the ceremony). Hopefully we'll get that award today.”
Bred in Pennsylvania by HnR Nothhaft Horseracing, Finest City was an $85,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase. Over the course of her career, Finest City has proven versatile, turning in impressive performances in turf routes and dirt sprints. The Santa Monica win bolsters the mare's career record to 5-4-2 from 15 starts, with earnings of over $1 million.
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