Seltzers Looking for Success in Home ‘City’, Then at Fasig

By Brian DiDonato

Tyler Seltzer might refer to he and his father Wayne Seltzer as “small fish” in the racing game, but the success their operation, Seltzer Thoroughbreds, has had on the track with champion female sprinter Finest City (City Zip) is not to be downplayed. The San Diegans will look for their stable star to go out on a high note at their home track of Del Mar in defense of her GI Breeders’ Cup F/M Sprint title on Saturday, then head to Lexington to be offered at Fasig-Tipton’s much-anticipated November Sale the following Monday. She’s consigned to the sale by her trainer Ian Kruljac as hip 171.

“It’s a perfect place to finish her career–at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup, hopefully defending her title–and then have the opportunity to bring her to Fasig-Tipton and offer her there will be great,” said Tyler Seltzer. “It’s a ridiculous catalogue, and to even be in the same sentence as Songbird (Medaglia d’Oro) and Tepin (Bernstein) will be pretty special… Hopefully we’ll have a great day on Saturday, and a great day on Monday.”

The Seltzer family owned and operated the Carlsbad, CA-based Seltzer Companies, supplying raw materials and custom pre-mixes to food and beverage companies. They sold the business in 2006, giving Tyler Seltzer the means to further pursue his lifelong passion of Thoroughbred racing.

“I was born and raised here in San Diego, and I went to Santa Anita for the first time when I was six years old,” Seltzer said. “I’ve been going religiously ever since. I’m 42 years old now, and I’ve been playing the horses pretty much all my life. When we sold the business, it afforded me the opportunity to enter on a small scale as an owner.”

The first horse Seltzer purchased was Triumphant Flight (Chullo {Arg}), a $36,000 Barretts October yearling graduate of 2007. Picked out and conditioned by Eric Kruljac, the colt was a two-time stakes winner and earned more than $268,000.

Seltzer’s father Wayne saw the success his son had with Triumphant Flight, and wanted to get in on the action–they joined forces in 2009, campaigning the two-time stakes-placed Whispering Hush (El Corredor) that season.

With Kruljac as their advisor, the Seltzers began to slowly increase the quantity and quality of their acquisitions with a goal to purchase approximately three yearlings a season. Seltzer sent Kruljac to the 2013 Keeneland September sale with very specific instructions.

“I sent him back there with a couple parameters,” Seltzer said. “There was a budgetary parameter, I was interested in buying maybe three yearlings, and I only wanted to buy yearlings by Lemon Drop Kid–I really liked him as a sire–and I was also intrigued by Run Away and Hide. I have a longtime acquaintance who owned part of [Run Away and Hide], so I said, ‘I like those two sires, so let’s focus on those.’”

Kruljac did buy one colt and one filly by Lemon Drop Kid for the Seltzers, but for his third purchase he recommended deviating from the plan slightly.

“Eric called me and told me his favorite yearling he had looked at was a filly by City Zip–the sire of Run Away and Hide–and out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare,” Seltzer said. “He said she was the best physical specimen he’d seen, so I said alright. We set a budget, she came under that budget [at $85,000], and that turned out to be Finest City. So that was a good phone call for Eric to make. I give him all the credit for that.”

Finest City began her career under Eric Kruljac’s care, and was second on debut in a Del Mar maiden special weight in 2015 that would eventually produce four graded winners, including two at the highest level. Kruljac then asked the Seltzers if they would be willing to transfer Finest City to his son and assistant Ian, giving the then 27-year-old his first horse. They obliged, and their faith in the young horseman was rewarded.

Finest City aired by 8 1/2 lengths and earned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure next out, and later just missed in the GII Santa Monica S. in January 2016 in her graded debut. She took the GII Great Lady M. S. at Los Alamitos that April, and stretched out to a mile successfully when third behind superstars Beholder (Henny Hughes) and Stellar Wind (Curlin) in the GI Vanity Mile that June. She tried turf in her next two, and was a head second in the nine-panel GII John C. Mabee S. in September, before cutting back and pulling off the 8-1 upset in the Filly and Mare Sprint en route to Eclipse honors.

“You can imagine how many texts and messages I got within 10 seconds of Finest City hitting the wire, and I couldn’t really read them all until after dinner that evening, and I kept saying it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the moment of a lifetime,” Seltzer said. “I still feel that way today, and the things I shared with people then I still feel. I can’t overstate how much I appreciate and respect what it means to win a race like that and how hard it is. I explain to my friends who aren’t racing fans that a thousand stars have to line up for that to happen: from having the right horse, at the right time, with the right trainer and the right ability coming in on the right day, with the right post, and the right jockey and all of that. You can have all of that, and the best horse, and still not win. So, to have it happen, for a small stable, this is an extremely tough sport for small fish, and for us to succeed on that stage at that place was beyond belief.”

The Seltzers opted to bring back Finest City at five, and her 2017 campaign kicked off auspiciously with a clear-cut tally in the GII Santa Monica S. in January. She’s run very well since then in tough spots, but is winless in her last four tries. The mare was second in the 1 1/8-mile GI Santa Margarita S. to streaking Vale Dori (Arg) (Asiatic Boy {Arg}) in March, then came up a neck short to fellow F/M Sprint contender Paulassilverlining (Ghostzapper) in the GI Humana Distaff S. on GI Kentucky Derby day. Third to the aforementioned Stellar Wind and Vale Dori in the GI Beholder Mile June 3, she’s been freshened since finishing third in the Great Lady M. July 8.

“We thought we had kind of found a wheelhouse for her in terms of spacing,” Seltzer said. “Coming into last year’s Breeders’ Cup, she seemed to thrive with more spacing between her races, but we got caught in the conundrum that everyone faces–you think the horse is doing well, and there are prominent races in the spring. There are no Grade I sprints for fillies and mares on the West Coast, so we went to Churchill to run in the Humana and I thought she ran incredibly well over a track that wasn’t ideal for her. Then in the Beholder, we ran into Stellar Wind, who’s going to be the favorite in the [GI Breeders’ Cup] Distaff… So we decided to give her a big freshening and to finish with one last race. I think it’s going to help her a lot. Every owner is biased and probably overly optimistic, but I’m confident, but also realistic. Not that I doubt her ability, but I know that only 20 horses have ever won two Breeders’ Cup races. I expect her to run extremely well, and if the cards fall right, that’ll mean a win.”

Regardless of how the cards fall, Finest City will surely be among the many highlights of one of the strongest breeding stock sale catalogues ever. Seltzer thinks this is the perfect time to sell.

“Even going back to last year, we’ve had people saying it’s time to sell [Finest City],” he said. “We’ve been getting calls since her debut with people interested in buying her. People said after she won the Breeders’ Cup we should sell her, but I’m just such a fan of the sport. She was doing well, thriving, and I thought she had already established her value and I was confident in what that value could be, so I didn’t entertain the idea of selling her then. But running at five, the Breeders’ Cup will be her 20th start, I think that’s an ideal time to enter a mare into the marketplace.”

While the Seltzers briefly considered breeding Finest City themselves, they decided to remain focused on racing. They have six in training at the moment, including stakes-placed recent blowout maiden breaker Exuberance (Archarcharch) and streaking Cal-bred Powder (Slew’s Tiznow).

“We’re not in the breeding business,” Seltzer said. “We owned a couple of broodmares out in California, we tried it, but it wasn’t for us. If I was in that business I would keep her and breed her myself, but it makes sense to have someone who’s an expert in that world and can maximize her value and what can happen with her as a broodmare. I think she’ll be a tremendous broodmare. If I was in it, I would keep her and wouldn’t even consider selling, but we’re in the racing game.”

 

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