06/15/2012 11:30AM

Best Present Ever eyes step up to American Oaks

Vassar Photography
Best Present Ever wins the $100,000 Campanile for California-bred 3-year-old fillies at Golden Gate Fields.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Best Present Ever is not the most robust filly in trainer Eric Kruljac’s stable.

“She’s probably 700 pounds, dripping wet,” he said.

So be it. She also is rapidly on the improve, winning her first stakes in the $100,000 Campanile for California-bred 3-year-old fillies at Golden Gate Fields on June 9. The victory has Kruljac and owner-breeders Dennis and Norine Grenier of Peoria, Ariz., planning a more ambitious start next month – the $250,000 American Oaks at Betfair Hollywood Park on July 14.

The American Oaks is a Grade 1 for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1/4 miles, a distance and level of competition that the lightly raced Best Present Ever has yet to try. Kruljac is not concerned about the challenge.

“She acts like she’ll run forever,” he said. “I think the mile and a quarter is well within her grasp. I don’t know if the Grade 1 company will be. Sometimes, when you come to that, the distance is the important thing.”

Best Present Ever has won 3 of 6 starts and $143,800, with the three wins coming in succession since late March.

Winless in two starts at 2, Best Present Ever was second in her 2012 debut March 2. She followed that race with a win in a maiden race on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita on March 31 and a victory in an optional claimer for California-bred fillies and mares at Hollywood Park on April 29.

The Campanile Stakes, run for the first time as part of the Golden State Series for California-breds, was Best Present Ever’s stakes debut. She won the one-mile turf race by five lengths, overcoming trouble on the turn.

Norine Grenier says that success is a turnaround from Best Present Ever’s first race, a fourth in a maiden race for 2-year-olds in June 2011.

“After her first race, all I wanted to see was her improve form that performance,” she said. “She went third, second, first, first, and first. How could I ask her to do anything more? She keeps winning at a better performance.”

The key to keeping weight on Best Present Ever earlier this year was a combination of an occasional Guinness beer and a feed supplement, Kruljac said. The filly no longer drinks Guinness on a regular basis, he said.

“Nothing out of the mare eats very well,” Kruljac said. “They’re poor doers. The mare is a great big hearty thing.”

Best Present Ever is out of Centerofattention, winner of 5 of 24 starts and $306,396 in a four-year career for the Greniers and Kruljac.

After needing 13 races to beat maidens, finally doing so at 4, Centerofattention had her best season at 5 in 2003, winning three stakes – the Sun City at Turf Paradise, the Luther Burbank Handicap at Santa Rosa, and the Solana Beach Handicap at Del Mar.

By Beau Genius, Centerofattention had two winners before Best Present Ever – the Marino Marini fillies Justincredible and Shine’n Time. Best Present Ever is by Unusual Heat, the leading stallion in the state by progeny earnings.

The dam has a colt by Stormin’ Fever by her side, but has yet to be pronounced in foal this spring. A mating to Southern Image is planned very soon, Norine Grenier said.

On the racetrack, the development of Best Present Ever continues. The filly needed a vacation last summer, and the payoffs are still arriving.

“I was able to convince the Greniers to give her time off,” Kruljac said. “They’re getting rewarded for it.”