Finest City looks to win at the top level going 1 1/8 miles in the Santa Margarita Stakes

Finest City looks to win at the top level going 1 1/8 miles in the Santa Margarita Stakes

Gary Tasich

Finest City Takes on Vale Dori in Santa Margarita

Finest City, the champion female sprinter of 2016, is far from a one-trick mare.

Seltzer Thoroughbreds' Finest City, the champion female sprinter of 2016, is far from a one-trick mare.

Although all five of her wins—including back-to-back scores in the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) and the Jan. 21 Santa Monica Stakes (G2)—have been around one turn, her form going two has been good enough to further encourage trainer Ian Kruljac to give the versatile 5-year-old options during her 2017 campaign.

After her breakthrough win in the Great Lady M. Stakes (G2) going 6 1/2 furlongs at Los Alamitos Race Course in April, the daughter of City Zip stepped up in three consecutive tests of endurance.

In her first race beyond seven furlongs Finest City finished third—1 1/2 lengths behind Beholder and three-quarter lengths behind Stellar Wind, both champions in their own right—in the Vanity Mile Stakes (G1). From there she switched to grass to finish fourth in the 1 1/16-mile Yellow Ribbon Handicap (G2T) and then just missed beating eventual grade 1 winner Avenge—by a head—in the 1 1/8-mile John C. Mabee Stakes (G2T).

Finest City has run well outside of sprint races, but she still hasn't won, which she'll look to do at the top level March 18 in the $400,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (G1) going 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita Park.

"It makes me pretty confident," Kruljac said of Finest City's ability to go long. "She was basically two lengths behind Beholder and the way she ran in the Mabee—she was a head away from a grade 1 winner."

It's not that Kruljac was dying to get Finest City back routing on dirt. He's expressed an interest in returning to turf, but is mostly guided by giving the mare an ideal amount of time between starts and then finding the best race to run in when she is ready.

"Nothing is set in stone," Kruljac said. "There's just not much else for her right now and we're not ready to ship her yet. We're giving her 45 to 60 days between races—which has worked out pretty well. God willing, after (the Santa Margarita), she'll get 45 to 60 days and then go to the (seven-furlong) Humana Distaff (G1, May 6 at Churchill Downs) or the Beholder (G1, formerly called the Vanity, June 3 at Santa Anita)."

As impressive as Finest City was in the Santa Monica—her 2017 debut, when she dueled through fast fractions and pulled away late to win by 3 3/4 lengths—Vale Dori could be the Santa Margarita favorite.

BALAN: Finest City Dazzles in Santa Monica

With the retirement of Beholder and in the absence of still-preparing champions Stellar Wind and Songbird, the daughter of Asiatic Boy trained by Bob Baffert has been downright dominant in the distaff division.

Vale Dori will look to earn her fifth straight score—and fourth straight graded victory—following wins in the Bayakoa Handicap (G2), La Canada (G2), and Santa Maria (G2), which were all at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

BALAN: Vale Dori Wins Third Straight Grade 2 in Santa Maria

Most of the rest of the field has been humbled by Vale Dori in those three graded races. Show Stealer and Autumn Flower have finished behind her in all three, while Wild At Heart tried in the Bayakoa and La Canada before taking the off-the-turf Buena Vista (G3) last time out Feb. 18.

New faces include Argentine stakes winner Estrechada, who came in second to eventual grade 2 winner Goodyearforroses last time out in the Astra II Stakes on grass Feb. 2, and Perfect Pic, who has won two straight optional-claiming allowance races—one on dirt, one on turf—to begin her 4-year-old season.

Entries: Santa Margarita S. (G1)

Santa Anita Park, Saturday, March 18, 2017, Race 9

  • Grade I
  • 1 1/8m
  • Dirt
  • $400,000
  • 4 yo's & up Fillies and Mares
  • 4:38 PM (local)
11Autumn Flower (KY)Martin A. Pedroza120Dan L. Hendricks20/1
22Vale Dori (ARG)Rafael Bejarano122Bob Baffert9/5
33Finest City (PA)Keeneland Sales GraduateTyler Baze120Ian Kruljac8/5
44Show Stealer (KY)Kent J. Desormeaux120Art Sherman8/1
55Lady Tapit (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateMario Gutierrez120Peter Eurton20/1
66Perfect Pic (ON)Keeneland Sales GraduateSantiago Gonzalez120James M. Cassidy5/1
77Wild At Heart (KY)Flavien Prat120Richard E. Mandella6/1
88Estrechada (ARG)Stewart Elliott120Mike Puype15/1