The ultra-consistent mare Tuscan Evening had no problem handling a little extra distance in the Santa Ana Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO), leading all the way for her ninth win in 13 Southern California races March 21 on the Santa Anita turf.
With Rafael Bejarano aboard, the Irish-bred Tuscan Evening established an easy pace and led Cat by the Tale all the way around the 1 1/8-mile journey to record her fifth graded stakes win for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer since arriving in the U.S. from her native land early in 2009. The 5-year-old defeated the grade II winner Cat by the Tale by 1 1/4 lengths in a time of 1:48.03 over firm going.
Tuscan Evening has done her best running in Southern California at the one-mile distance and in her only previous try at nine furlongs, in the John C. Mabee Stakes (gr. IT) at Del Mar last summer, she tired to finish eighth after pulling hard in the early going.
None of that was in evidence in the Santa Ana. Though she usually prefers to strike from just off the pace, Tuscan Evening was allowed to gallop to the front right after the gates opened for Bejarano. With Cat by the Tale tracking on her outside, the stalking Brazilian mare Eissoai at the rail, and April Pride right behind them, Tuscan Evening maintained a one-length lead while carving relaxed quarter-mile fractions of :24.80, :49.78, and 1:13.66.
With three furlongs left, the first two picked up the pace and gradually separated from the rest around the final turn and into the stretch. Tuscan Evening bobbled leaving the turn but regained her stride quickly after drifting out a bit.
Cat by the Tale, under encouragement from Joel Rosario, drew closer as they made their way through the lane but Tuscan Evening fought back to repel the challenge nearing the eighth pole. With slight urging from Bejarano, Tuscan Evening was lengthening her advantage as she hit the wire.
“This mare can do anything she wants, especially at this distance," said Bejarano after recording his fouth consecutive win on the Santa Anita card. "She stumbled a little bit at the top of the stretch and she lost her momentum for a jump or two, but she was full of run and she got going again.”
Hollendorfer credited Bejarano with a heady ride.
“He was careful about being on the lead, and we were watching for somebody to do something else," Hollendorfer said. "He made the right judgment and handled the pace very well, so we’re very pleased. We wanted to know the answer to that (distance) question and I think she answered it well today.”
Tuscan Evening, who went off as the even-money favorite in the eight-horse field of older fillies and mares, won for the sixth time in eight tries on the Santa Anita grass course. She also had a pair of thirds over the layout.
Cat by the Tale finished a clear second by 1 3/4 lengths, with the late-running General Consensus arriving in time under Alex Solis to nab the show spot by a nose from Eissoai and Michael Baze.
All that has eluded Tuscan Evening in her relentless rise to the top of Southern California's female turf division is a grade I win. Hollendorfer said after the race that he would discuss the next step with owner William de Burgh, but that he would like to take her on the road next.
"I'd like to run her in Kentucky during Derby week on the grass there," he said, referring to the $200,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT) May 1.
Perfect in three starts in 2010, Tuscan Evening earned $90,000 for the Santa Ana victory, improving her career mark to 9-4-5 in 24 starts while banking $809,408. The daughter of Oasis Dream--The Faraway Tree, by Suave Dancer, arrived in the U.S. winless in 11 starts while facing top company in Ireland as a 3-year-old.
Tuscan Evening won the Monrovia Handicap (gr. IIIT) at 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course and the one-mile Buena Vista Handicap (gr. IIT) earlier this year at Santa Anita.
Hascombe and Valiant Studs bred the winning bay mare.
Tuscan Evening carried top weight of 123 pounds, six more than the runner-up, and paid $4, $2.60, and $2.20. The Neil Drysdale trainee Cat by the Tale, winner of the nine-furlong San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT) in January, rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the Buena Vista to return $3.40 and $2.40. The exacta paid $13.60. General Consensus was $3.20 to show in her graded stakes debut for trainer Paddy Gallagher.
Eissoai was followed by defending Santa Ana winner Belmont Cat, April Pride, second choice Treat Gently, and Chasin Dreams.