City Envy (AKA Finest City) and Hank Nothhaft Keeneland November 2012
By Nikki Sherman
Originally published in PHBA February, 2017 Newsletter published in Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Magazine
Photos HnR Nothhaft Media Library
Other than the Kentucky Derby, winning a Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championship race is the dream of every breeder in the United States. It often takes decades-if it happens at all-to reach that pinnacle, but for Henry “Hank” Nothhaft, it took just a few years.
“I have not been involved in horse racing very long, “ Nothhaft admits. “I became directly involved in a very limited way around 2008, with the idea to create a business I could run and enjoy while I was moving into retirement from my business career in the technology world.”
Nothhaft, who breeds and races under the name HnR Nothhaft Horseracing LLC, wanted to go through a hands-on learning experience in the Thoroughbred industry and was able to purchase the promising young stallion, Silver Train, in 2011. That November, he and agent Carl McEntee attended the Keeneland November mixed sale to look for mares that would cross well with the son of Old Trieste. There, they found a Lemon Drop Kid mare named Be Envied, who was in foal to the popular sprint stallion City Zip. Nothhaft purchased Be Envied for $37,000 and shipped her to Northview PA in Peach Bottom to foal. That foal was a lovely chestnut filly he decided to name City Envy.
The filly was entered in the 2012 Keeneland November sale as a weanling after colleagues convinced him that she should easily bring $150,000. However, early interest in City Envy, who Nothhaft had named before his decision to sell came about, fizzled out when on-site veterinary inspections discovered an existing OCD on X-rays. She just barely met her reserve of $50,000, selling for that price to Cobra Farm, who in turn pinhooked her at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2013. Seltzer Thoroughbreds purchased the filly for $85,000 and the father-son team of Wayne and Tyler Seltzer decided to rename her Finest City after their hometown of San Diego.
“She was a knockout from day one” remembers Nothhaft. “Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons I decided to sell her, as I thought we were going to be able get six figures for her and I was focused on building a broodmare band for Silver Train to race in Pennsylvania. She was one of the first two or three PA-BRED horses I bred and was the first horse I bred who sold commercially at auction.”
The Seltzers’ trainer Ian Kruljac clearly had great hopes for their new filly from the beginning, as Finest City made her career debut at the prestigious Del Mar summer meet in July of 2015. The filly finished a solid second behind eventual graded stakes winner Gloryzapper. Her next start would be a different story-Finest City ran off to an impressive 8 ½ length score in a $70,000 maiden special weight at Del Mar. After an unsuccessful stakes debut over Santa Anita’s downhill turf course in her next start, Finest City returned to the winner’s circle with an easy 3 ¼ length score in a $53,000 allowance at Del Mar.
Finest City competed against some of the top female sprinters on the West Coast throughout the winter of 2015-16, and by April she finally broke through becoming a stakes winner when she captured the $200,000 Great Lady M Stakes-G2 at Los Alamitos. That race earned Finest City a chance to compete in the Breeders’ Cup, where she nearly faced off against Nothhaft’s own multiple graded stakes winner, millionaire Living the Life (IRE).
Living the Life (IRE) Flavian Prat up
“We originally had fairly elaborate plans to attend the Breeders’ Cup, but when Living the Life came up lame before the race, I canceled our reservations. I came to regret this decision,” Nothhaft admits. “So, my wife and I were glued to our TV watching the race. I must be honest, I thought Finest City could win, but was really more confident in a top-three finish. When she did win, we were cheering and literally jumping for joy. Within seconds, my cell phone exploded with texts and calls beyond anything we had ever experienced.”
On the first Saturday of November 2016, Finest City joined an elite group of just three other PA-Breds who have captured a Breeders’ Cup Race when she crossed the wire first in the $1,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint G1, holding off defending champion Wavell Avenue by three-quarters of a length under heavy urging from Hall of Fame Jockey Mike Smith.
Those other Breeders’ Cup-winning PA-Breds are some of the most talented athletes to grace the Breeders’ Cup. Alphabet Soup won the 1996 Classic in a thrilling stretch battle with Louis Quatorze and Cigar. Go For Wand captured the 1989 Juvenile Fillies as part of a campaign that culminated in her being crowned that year’s Eclipse Award champion 2 year-old filly, and Tikkanen, wh set a couse record at Churchill Downs in the 1994 Breeders’ Cup turf.
Finest City enjoyed a short break following the biggest race of her life, but has since returned to Kruljac’s Santa Anita Barn. She is steadily working towards a 2017 campaign that would ideally give her the opportunity to defend her Breeders’ Cup title, this time in her owners’ hometown of San Diego at her favorite track, Del Mar.
Finest City making her winning Breeders’ Cup move with Mike Smith up
She was also named a finalist for the 2016 Champion Female Sprinter, along with Haveyougoneaway and Paulasilverlining-both whom finished behind Finest City in the Breeders’ Cup.
Win or lose, nothing will compare to the thrill of winning a Breeders’ Cup race. Tyler Seltzer said it best when the NBC Sports camera crew caught up with him immediately following the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. The excitement was overwhelming, and all he could think to say was an emphatic, “She’s pretty great.”