01/05/2017 1:46PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Finest City

Barbara D. Livingston
Finest City earned her first Grade 1 win in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

As the 2016 Breeders’ Cup approached, Finest City was barely on the radar screen for a divisional Eclipse Award. But one sensational run changed all that.

By winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint on Nov. 5 at her home track of Santa Anita, Finest City became an Eclipse finalist in the female sprint division.

Trained by 28-year-old Ian Kruljac for the Seltzer Thoroughbreds of Wayne and Tyler Seltzer, Finest City began her 4-year-old season in January by finishing second in a three-horse photo in the Grade 1 Santa Monica at seven furlongs. She then put in two subpar efforts in dirt sprints, finishing third in a February allowance and fourth in the Grade 3 Las Flores in March.

After an 8-1 upset in the Grade 2 Great Lady M. at 6 1/2 furlongs at Los Alamitos in April and a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Vanity at a mile in June, Finest City was tried twice in two-turn grass races at Del Mar, finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon in July and a close second in the Grade 2 John C. Mabee in September.

“We always knew how versatile she was and could turn her back to sprinting on the dirt whenever we wanted,” said Kruljac told Daily Racing Form before the Breeders’ Cup.

:: Eclipse Awards: 2016 finalists with profiles

The $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint shaped up as a wide-open affair, with Carina Mia settling in as a lukewarm 3-1 favorite. Going turf to dirt and turning back in distance, Finest City came armed with six breezes over the Santa Anita surface, including a six-furlong work in 1:11.80 on Oct. 15. She went off as the 8-1 fifth choice in a field of 13.

“Her work on Oct. 15 was the one that made me think we really had a shot,” said Kruljac.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Finest City broke sharply from post 12 in the seven-furlong Filly and Mare Sprint, settling into a comfortable outside position for the backstretch run and closely stalking the pacesetters, Gloryzapper and Paulassilverlining.

Turning for home, Finest City took over without urging, but when Wavell Avenue loomed to her outside, Smith had to go to a steady left-handed whip. Finest City responded by digging down to prevail by three-quarters of a length in what was easily her finest moment.

“She’s pretty great,” an elated Tyler Seltzer said afterward on the NBC Sports broadcast.

Tyler is the son of Wayne Seltzer. The family sold their food-and-beverage business in 2006 and soon began buying Thoroughbreds. They named Finest City for their hometown of San Diego.

Kruljac hails from a racing family – his father, Eric, and uncle Jay are trainers. The Filly and Mare Sprint was just the fourth victory of his career. He narrowly missed becoming the youngest trainer ever to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Craig Dollase still holds the record by winning the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Reraise at age 27.

Finest City, a chestnut filly by City Zip out of Be Envied, by Lemon Drop Kid, was bred in Pennsylvania by HnR Nothhaft Horseracing LLC. She was purchased by the Seltzers for $85,000 at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale out of the Bluewater Sales consignment. For her career, which started in July 2015, she now has won 4 of 14 starts and earned $925,594.

After a short break, Finest City returned to the Santa Anita work tab in early December as Kruljac began preparing her for a 5-year-old campaign he hopes will culminate with a return engagement in the Filly and Mare Sprint on Nov. 4 at the Seltzers’ home track of Del Mar.