She began her United States career as a turf sprinter last year, but the multiple graded stakes winner Tuscan Evening has proven to be much more versatile than that. On April 17, the Irish-bred mare will put her three-race winning streak on the line at 10 furlongs in the $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT) over a Santa Anita turf course she adores.
Tuscan Evening goes after an extremely rare achievement in the Santa Barbara, which would be her fourth graded victory during the Santa Anita meet.
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for William de Burgh, Tuscan Evening will not only be trying to win at a distance longer than she's attempted before, she'll also shoulder 124 pounds for the first time. The 5-year-old mare will spot her five rivals from seven to 11 pounds apiece in the Santa Barbara, which is the fourth race on the program with a probable post of 2:03 p.m. PDT.
Tuscan Evening had little trouble in the Santa Ana Handicap (gr. II) last time out March 21, gamely leading from gate to wire in her first try at 1 1/8 miles while carrying 123 pounds. She defeated Cat by the Tale, who returns in the Santa Barbara, by a steady 1 1/4 lengths. It was the bay's sixth win in eight starts at Santa Anita.
“She got a mile and an eighth,” Hollendorfer said in response to the distance question, “and it looked like she did that pretty easily.”
Chances are she'll have to do it the same way in the Santa Barbara. There does not appear to be any other serious pace rivals.
“We’ll look at that (the pace scenario) at the proper time, but she’s been training well,” said Hollendorfer earlier this week.
The daughter of Oasis Dream worked seven furlongs on Santa Anita’s turf course April 11 in 1:27. In addition to the Santa Ana at the current meet, she has captured the Monrovia Handicap (gr. IIIT) at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course and the one-mile Buena Vista Handicap (gr. IIT).
Since coming to the U.S. from her native land winless, Tuscan Evening has posted nine wins in 13 starts, mostly in graded stakes. Though grade I placed, the only thing that has escaped her so far is a triumph at the highest level. The effort to hone her distance ability will no doubt open up more opportunities for her in that regard later this year.
Tuscan Evening, who breaks from post 2 with regular pilot Rafael Bejarano aboard, boasts an overall mark of 9-4-5 in 24 lifetime starts with earnings of $809,408.
Cat by the Tale, from the Neil Drysdale barn, chased Tuscan Evening all the way around in second in the Santa Ana. She challenged the winner in the stretch but could not match strides late while finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of the show horse, General Consensus, who is also entered in the Santa Barbara.
Since posting her first graded stakes win in the 1 1/8-mile San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT) Jan. 2, Cat by the Tale has lost twice to Tuscan Evening, including a fourth-place finish in the Buena Vista five weeks prior to the Santa Ana. The 5-year-old daughter of Tale of the Cat started twice at 10 furlongs, most recently when she raced in Ireland in 2008 and finished fifth.
Cat by the Tale, owned by Matthew Cloros, has been quite consistent in nine starts in the U.S., never finishing worse than fourth while posting three wins.
She'll be teamed with Tyler Baze for the first time and will break from the rail.
General Consensus charged from last in the Santa Ana to finish three lengths behind Tuscan Evening and should appreciate the extra furlong. Trained by Paddy Gallagher for Sierra Farm, the 5-year-old Giant's Causeway mare made her graded stakes debut in her last start. Three of her four lifetime wins have come on the Santa Anita grass.
German-bred filly Eclair de Lune looms an intriguing upset possibility for trainer Ron McAnally. Owned now by Richard Duchossois, the 4-year-old previously raced in France, where she was group-placed in her final start at Deauville in August and won two of six starts overall. Fourth in her U.S. debut against optional claiming allowance rivals going one mile at Santa Anita on March 18, she'll be making her American stakes debut.
"We bought her out of the Arc sale, the day before the Arc (de Triomphe)," McAnally said. "She was one of the sale toppers; I think she was second or third. Several people from the U.S. were there to bid on her. We were prepared to spend more on her than we did, but got her cheaper than we expected.
“It’s my opinion that she is best at a mile and a quarter, which is what she’s running at. She’s steady in her running style. She doesn’t really have a quick turn of foot, but she goes at a good clip. I know we have Tuscan Evening to beat, but we’re getting a lot of weight from her (10 pounds).
“My filly should benefit from her last race and should be fit enough. We trained her pretty well up to that mile race. She was ready to run two or three weeks before that race, but she’s definitely better at a longer distance.”
Trainer Ben Cecil has entered a pair: the lightly raced 4-year-old Medaglia d'Amour, winner of her last two starts on the Santa Anita turf, and British-bred Restless Soul, a late-running mare who owns a win at the Santa Barbara distance.
$200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 4, 2:03 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Cat by the Tale (KY), T Baze, 117, N D Drysdale
2. Tuscan Evening (IRE), R Bejarano, 124, J Hollendorfer
3. Restless Soul (GB), B Blanc, 116, B D Cecil
4. Medaglia d'Amour (KY), J Rosario, 113, B D Cecil
5. General Consensus (KY), A O Solis, 115, P Gallagher
6. Eclair de Lune (GER), J Talamo, 114, R L McAnally