11/05/2016 8:09PM

Finest City holds off Wavell Avenue in Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint

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Debra A. Roma
Finest City, cutting back in distance and switching from turf to dirt, wins the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint under Mike Smith.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Ian Kruljac has won four races as a trainer, all with Finest City. The latest and easily the most important victory came Saturday when Finest City ran the race of her life – as Kruljac had promised – when pulling an 8-1 upset in the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita.

Always in the hunt after breaking sharply from post 12 in a field of 13, Finest City and jockey Mike Smith held off the oncoming Wavell Avenue to prevail by three-quarters of a length. Paulassilverlining was third, another 1 1/4 lengths back, with Tara’s Tango nailing By the Moon for fourth,  another three-quarters of a length behind.

Finest City returned $19.40 after finishing the seven-furlong distance in 1:22.37 over a fast track. A 4-year-old Pennsylvania-bred daughter of City Zip, Finest City is owned by the Seltzer Thoroughbreds of Tyler and Wayne Seltzer.

The pace was hotly contested in the Filly and Mare Sprint, with Gloryzapper holding a tenuous lead over Paulassilverlining and Finest City leaving the half-mile pole, and By the Moon poised to strike from in behind that line. Approaching the quarter pole, Wavell Avenue and jockey Joel Rosario were well under way with a big looping move, and by the eighth pole, the race had boiled down to Smith going to work on Finest City to fend off Wavell Avenue.

Kruljac, 28, dropped out of the Racetrack Industry Program at the University of Arizona as a senior when returning to his racetrack roots. His father, Eric, and uncle, Jay, are veterans of the California and Arizona circuits, and Ian has been a licensed trainer for only a little more than a year. Leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, Kruljac said he and the Seltzers had eyed the Filly and Mare Sprint with Finest City for months despite the fact she had run at a variety of distances and on both dirt and turf. Given the wide-open nature of this race – the favorite, Carina Mia, was a tepid 3-1 – Kruljac was quietly confident in the days approaching the race, saying: “She’s running, not me.”

“She sends herself out of there and Mike chose not to take her back,” Kruljac said in the race aftermath. “It was absolutely perfect. She has a high cruising speed and I could tell he was in hand. It is just such an honor to compete with all these top trainers and have a top filly.”

“The old handicapping angle of ‘turf to dirt’ and a long turf race to middle-distance sprint is really a good way to get a horse ready for a race like this,” said Smith. “They learn to relax a little better and it’s easier on them.”

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Last year at Keeneland, Wavell Avenue and Rosario won the BC Filly and Mare Sprint at 10-1. Dismissed at 13-1 this time, she was bidding to become the second two-time winner in the 10-year history of this race, following Groupie Doll (2012-13).

“She ran huge,” said Rosario. “I thought I was going to go by Mike for a minute, but she was second-best today.”

After the top five, the order was Spelling Again, Haveyougoneaway, Irish Jasper, Carina Mia, Wonder Gal, Gloryzapper, Paola Queen, and Gomo.

The $2 exacta (12-10) paid $216.40, the $1 trifecta (12-10-9) returned $1,235.70, and the 10-cent superfecta (12-10-9-3) was worth $839.20.