ARCADIA, Calif. – Wavell Avenue couldn’t do it in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita in November. Fantastic Style failed in the $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday.
In both races, Finest City was challenged early in the stretch by formidable rivals in important sprints for fillies and mares. In both races, Finest City repelled her rivals to score a convincing win.
Finest City won the $921,725 BC Filly and Mare Sprint by three-quarters of a length over Wavell Avenue, the winner of the 2015 BC Filly and Mare Sprint at Keeneland.
In the Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes, Finest City put away a threat from Fantastic Style before the eighth pole and won by 3 3/4 lengths, running seven furlongs in 1:21.49. Mike Smith rode Finest City in both of her wins, the only times he’s ridden the mare.
“Mike took it to them,” winning trainer Ian Kruljac said. “When you put her in the race, she’s tough to beat. Mike rode her perfectly. He’s got the most beautiful hands in the game.”
The win came on the afternoon of the Eclipse Awards presentation at Gulfstream Park, where Finest City is a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding female sprinter of 2016.
Ian Kruljac and owner Tyler Seltzer attended the Santa Monica Stakes, while Kruljac’s father, Eric, a trainer at Santa Anita, attended the Eclipse Awards ceremony.
“This could be a once-in-a-lifetime day,” Ian Kruljac said after the Santa Monica.
Finest City was the 2-5 favorite in a field of five in the Santa Monica. Breaking from the inside post, she led narrowly over Fantastic Style through fractions of 22.15 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 44.26 for a half-mile.
Fantastic Style was within a head of Finest City with a quarter mile to go, and may have briefly gotten in front, before Finest City took the lead and drew away on a wet-fast track.
“The inside was a big obstacle,” Ian Kruljac said.
Sheer Pleasure, supplemented to the race at a cost of $4,000 when entries were taken Wednesday, finished third, followed by Dr. Fager’s Gal and Bad Ju Ju.
The Santa Monica Stakes was Fantastic Style’s first start for trainer Doug O’Neill. Owned by Kaleem Shah, Fantastic Style was transferred to O’Neill on Jan. 1 after Shah and previous trainer Bob Baffert parted ways. Fantastic Style is a multiple stakes winner.
“She ran great,” O’Neill said of Fantastic Style. “The winner is a freak.”
Finest City, by City Zip, has won 5 of 15 starts and $1,050,594. She has won three sprint stakes in the last year, including the Grade 2 Great Lady M Stakes at Los Alamitos last April, the first career stakes win for Ian Kruljac, 28.
Source: Steve Anderson, DRF