ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 21, 2017)–Idle since winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint here on Nov. 5, trainer Ian Kruljac’s Finest City overcame a rail post position and marched to an emphatic 3 ¾ length win in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita. Ridden for the second time in a row by Mike Smith, Finest City got seven furlongs over a “wet fast” track in 1:21.49.
Favored to be named as America’s Eclipse Award Champion Female Sprinter in a special gala this evening at Gulfstream Park, Track Announcer Michael Wrona noted that Finest City was “looking for the first leg of a special double that could culminate in an Eclipse Award tonight,” as Finest City drew clear from a stubborn Fantastic Style a sixteenth from home.
“This could be a once-in-a-lifetime day,” said Kruljac, 28, whose father, longtime trainer, Eric Kruljac, is at Gulfstream to accept the Eclipse trophy on behalf of his son, should Finest City win the highly coveted award. “It’s awesome to share it with my father. Hopefully, we’ll get that award today.
“We’re just keeping her fresh…The inside post was a big obstacle today and Mike just took it to ’em. She’s got stamina. She’s got everything you’d ever want in the breeding of a race horse.”
A 5-year-old Pennsylvania-bred mare by City Zip, Finest City was off at 2-5 in a field of five older fillies and mares and paid $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10. Owned by Seltzer Thoroughbreds, she improved her record to 15-5-4-2, and with the winner’s share of $120,000, increased her earnings to $1,045,594.
“Breaking from the one hole in this slop, you gotta get outta there,” said Smith. “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 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.”
A well beaten fifth as the 1-2 favorite over a similar surface here on Dec. 30, Fantastic Style made her first start today for trainer Doug O’Neill and proved second best after chasing the winner throughout. Off at 7-2 with Rafael Bejarano, she finished a neck in front of Sheer Pleasure and paid $2.80 and $2.40.
Ridden by Martin Garcia, Sheer Pleasure was off at 22-1 and paid $3.40 to show.
Fractions on the race, which were all set by the winner, were 22.15, 44.26 and 1:08.79.
First post time for an eight-race card on Sunday at Santa Anita is at 12:30 p.m. Admission gates open at 10:30 a.m.