by Averie Levanti for Pennsylvania Horseracing Association
In a typical year, 1,600 Pennsylvania-breds compete on the racetrack for average earnings of $27,600. Of the 50,000+ who have raced across the globe since 1985, only an elite group of 31 horses have broken the seven-figure mark in earnings. Over the course of summer 2020, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association will be chronicling a ten-part series featuring the select group of Pennsylvania-breds who reached the unique and rare accomplishment of $1,000,000 in racetrack earnings. Join us to celebrate and remember some of the greatest racehorses the Keystone State has produced.
When Hank Nothhaft attended the 2011 Keeneland November Sale, he had a specific goal in mind: purchase a handful of broodmares to support his newest stallion acquisition, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winning Silver Train, who Nothhaft had purchased a couple of months prior and moved to the Pennsylvania branch of Northview Stallion Station.
Alongside his bloodstock agent Carl McEntee, Nothhaft ended up taking home three new broodmares. One was Be Envied, a stakes placed daughter of Lemon Drop Kid who was in foal to the up and coming stallion City Zip. Sent to Northview PA, Be Envied foaled out her chestnut filly on March 28th, 2012.
Nothhaft named his newest filly City Envy, and she quickly began to bring raving reviews. McEntee advised Nothhaft that the filly would be a great weanling sale prospect, and the decision was made to prepare for the 2012 Keeneland November Sale after she x-rayed clean. Her high expectations led Nothhaft to set her reserve at $50,000, but they expected her to bring as high as $150,000 with all of the buzz surrounding her.
To the surprise of Hank Nothhaft and everyone else involved with City Envy, she hammered right on reserve at $50,000 for Cobra Farm. What had happened? How could they have been so wrong? Soon after, it was discovered that City Envy was not vetting cleanly and happened to have a cyst on a stifle, a problem that was not detected on her initial x-rays. Nothhaft dealt with mixed emotions following the sale knowing he would not have sold his filly if he had known she had had an issue.
City Envy was sent to new owners Cobra Farm and prepared as a pinhook for the 2013 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She brought $85,000 as a yearling and was purchased on behalf of the San Diego-based stable Seltzer Thoroughbreds. Seltzer ended up renaming City Envy to Finest City as an ode to their hometown. Once settled into California, the newly- named Finest City was turned over to a third generation horseman, albeit a brand new trainer, in 28-year-old Ian Kruljac.
Finest City developed a reputation as a quirky horse, and she dealt with a handful of minor physical maladies. Kruljac was patient with his filly, and his small stable allowed him to give her the attention she needed. His careful and patient handling ensured that Finest City did eventually make it to the races, and she debuted at Del Mar in July of her three-year-old season, finishing a close second at odds of 33-1.
Finest City made her next start on August 23, 2015, romping to an 8 ½ length maiden victory at Del Mar. Her impressive score earned her a try in stakes company next out, and she finished a respectable fourth in the Unzip Me Stakes in her turf debut. Returning to the main track, Finest City rolled to another easy victory at Del Mar, this time taking an allowance event by 3 ¼ lengths. Her short first year ended with another second place effort in allowance company before a dull effort in the G1 La Brea on a quick turnaround. It was the last time she finished outside of the superfecta for a long time.
Starting her four-year-old campaign in the Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita, Finest City suffered a heartbreaking loss after dueling with 64-1 longshot Lost Bus for the duration of the race before falling a head short at the wire. She proceeded to finish third in allowance company and fourth in the G3 Las Flores Stakes before stepping back up into Grade 2 company in the Great Lady M Stakes at Los Alamitos
Sent off at 8-1 in the field of seven, Finest City settled towards the back of the pack before making a four-wide bid around the turn to put her within contention. In a perfectly timed ride, the filly ran down the leading pair of Las Flores winner Fantastic Style and Santa Monica winner Lost Bus to enact her revenge by 1 ¼ lengths.
Fresh off her first graded stakes triumph, Finest City tried Grade 1 company in the Vanity Mile, where she faced a dynamic duo of champions in Beholder and Stellar Wind. In an incredibly respectable effort, she finished third
while beaten only 2 ¼ lengths by Beholder, who would go on to win her second consecutive Champion Older Mare title by year’s end.
Having shown her versatility with an ability to handle turf in the past, Finest City returned to the turf for her next two races. After finishing a close fourth in the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon Handicap, the filly stretched out to the furthest distance of her career in the 11/8 mile Grade 2 John C. Mabee Stakes. Finest City put up a gutsy effort at a distance that was probably past her prime, closing a 2 length advantage on Avenge in the final furlong to lose by a diminishing head.
With the Breeders’ Cup looming two months out, Finest City trained up to the world championship event with her sights set on a return to the dirt in the Fill-y & Mare Sprint division. Everything was coming together perfectly for Hank Nothhaft, who also planned to run his filly Living The Life in the same race. Living The Life was entering the Breeders’ Cup off a close second in the G2 Presque Isle Masters in her bid to win the race for a third consecutive year.
Nothhaft had his tickets and travel plans in order to cheer home both a filly he owned and a filly he had bred when disaster struck. Living The Life turned up lame after her final workout for the Breeders’ Cup. In the immediate air of disappointment, Nothhaft cancelled his travel plans and gave away his Breeders’ Cup tickets. It was a decision he would end up regretting. tickets. It was a decision he would end up regretting.
Finest City drew post twelve in the field of thirteen. Despite having not won since April, she was sent off as the fifth betting choice at 8-1 for her consistent, well-placed efforts. When the gates sprung, Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith hustled Finest Cit-y towards the front, locking into a three-wa-y speed duel with Gloryzapper and Paulassilverlining. The trio set down blistering fractions of 21.98 for the opening quarter and 44.82 for the opening half.
With Gloryzapper falling away as the field rounded the turn, Finest City and Paulassilverlining turned into the stretch as one. Defending champion Wavell Avenue was catapulting from the back of the pack to range up alongside the dueling pair. Finest City finally gained an advantage over Paulassilverlining before being confronted with a new challenge from Wavell Avenue. Regardless, Finest City found it within herself to hold off her rival for the final half furlong, and she soared under the wire ¾ length in front.
Finest City’s score in the Filly & Mare Sprint was the fourth victory at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships for a Pennsylvania-bred and the first in twenty-four years. It was a first for many involved: the first Grade 1 victory for the fill-y herself, the first for Seltzer Thoroughbreds and young trainer Ian Kruljac, and the first for Hank Nothhaft as a breeder. At year’s end Finest City was named Pennsylvania-bred Horse of the Year and won the Eclipse Award for Champion Female Sprinter.
A few hours before she was officially christened a champion, Finest City made her five-year-old debut in the G2 Santa Monica. She went one better than the year before, cruising to an easy 3 ¾ length victory in wire to wire fashion. The Santa Monica would ultimately end up being the final win for Finest City’s career, but she remained consistent through year’s end with second place efforts in the G1 Santa Margarita and the G1 Humana Distaff and thirds in the G1 Beholder Mile and G2 Great Lady M.
Finest City still intended to defend her title in the Breeders’ Cup, and Hank Nothhaft made sure not to miss out the second time. On November 4, 2017, the consistent, hard-trying mare made the final start of her career at the world championships, but a repeat was not meant to be. Finest City turned in the poorest effort of her career when eighth in the field of fourteen.
Despite the disappointing end to her racing career, there was no time to ruminate. Finest City was due to sell at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale two days after the Breeders’ Cup, and she shipped to Kentucky the following morning. Hank Nothhaft followed his filly and watched her step into the sales ring on Monday evening. The bidding jumped up past seven figures before finally hammering at $1,500,000 for legendary Japanese horseman Katsumi Yoshida, owner of Japan’s breeding powerhouse Northern Farm.
From Finest City’s three seasons on the racetrack, she faced the starting gate twenty times with five wins, six seconds, and four thirds for earnings of $1,266,394. She only finished worse than fourth twice throughout her entire career. She took home three graded stakes triumphs and placed in seven others, with her finest hour coming with a Breeders’ Cup victor-y and subsequent Eclipse Award.
Despite offering Finest City as a weanling at Keeneland, Hank Nothhaft maintains that he has no regrets when it comes to selling her that day. He reflects on how the circumstances, timing, and luck culminated with her ending up with the right trainer at the right time to maximize her talent. Nothhaft believes that ending up in a small barn like Ian Kruljac’s was crucial to Finest City’s success because she received the individual attention that was required to work out her kinks and minor problems.
Before being sent to her new home in Japan, Finest City made a stop in England for a date with world-renowned sire Frankel. The resulting colt sold at auction for 108,000,000 -yen (around $1,000,000 USD) as a foal. She continues to reside at Northern Farm, where she delivered a colt by Lord Kanaloa in 2020.