A brilliant winner of eight of 12 starts for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer since transferring to the U.S. last year, Tuscan Evening squares off against males for the first time in this country in the $250,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) on the Santa Anita Park turf March 6.
Irish-bred Tuscan Evening is one of two 5-year-old mares in the 11-horse field, joined by Juddmonte Farms' Proviso, who gets back on the grass after three U.S. starts on synthetic tracks. Other top contenders in a superb field include grade II winner Awesome Gem, an earner of nearly $1.7 million; multiple grade II winner Battle of Hastings; 2008 Kilroe champ Ever a Friend; and Citation Handicap (gr. IT) victor Fluke.
The Kilroe, the ninth race at 4:08 p.m. PST, is sandwiched between two other grade I offerings on the program, the $250,000 Santa Anita Oaks and the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap.
Tuscan Evening unfortunately drew the far outside post, and jockey Felipe Valdez, who replaces Rafael Bejarano, may have to ask her for a little extra leaving the gate to avoid being stuck too wide on the clubhouse turn. Tuscan Evening has won gate-to-wire a few times since arriving in the U.S., but her preferred style is to race just off the pace and pounce in the homestretch.
That is the tactic she has employed in both of her starts this year, resulting in popular victories in the one-mile Buena Vista Handicap (gr. IIT) Feb. 15 by 2 1/4 lengths, and the Monrovia Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the hillside course at about 6 1/2 furlongs by one length Jan. 3. Valdez will be aboard the William de Burgh-owned daughter of Oasis Dream for the first time.
Tuscan Evening, seeking her first grade I victory, came to the U.S. winless in 11 starts but has done little wrong in her 12-race U.S. career. She has finished off the board just once while compiling four graded wins and purses totaling $636,555. Her overall record now stands at 8-4-5 in 23 races with earnings of $719,408. The bay has been particularly fierce at Santa Anita, where she has won five of seven starts on the grass.
She'll get three pounds from the top-weighted Battle of Hastings, who carries 119 for trainer Jeff Mullins and owner Michael House. The Great Britain-bred 4-year-old Royal Applause gelding makes his first start since posting back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) Nov. 7 and the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) three weeks later. Both losses came against The Usual Q. T., who skipped the Kilroe.
Battle of Hastings earned more than $1 million as a 3-year-old while posting four wins and four seconds in nine starts. His victories included the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) and the Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIT) at Colonial Downs and the Baldwin Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Santa Anita. He's reunited with Tyler Baze and they break from post 10.
The versatile West Point Thoroughbreds-owned Awesome Gem gets back on the turf for the first time since his runner-up finish to Global Hunter in last summer's Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT). Winner of the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) on a muddy track in October, the 7-year-old makes his first start for trainer Craig Dollase since running seventh in the Breeders's Cup Classic (gr. I).
Ever a Friend humbled the Kilroe field by nearly four lengths two years ago but was injured later that spring and did not return for nearly 17 months. Now 7, the gray/roan gelding makes his first start for trainer Mike Mitchell since finishing second in the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park Nov. 27.
The upset 1 1/4-length winner of that race, Patricia Bozano's Brazilian-bred Fluke, also makes his 2010 debut in the Kilroe for trainer Humberton Ascanio.
Proviso, now in the Bill Mott barn, ran second as the choice in the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) in her last start Jan. 31. She was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) last fall after winning Keeneland's Spinster Stakes (gr. I) only to be disqualified to second after swerving in deep stretch.
Proviso raced 15 times in Great Britain and France on the grass before moving to the U.S. last fall and was a group III winner in her final European start at Longchamp.
Harris Farms' Red Sun is on a three-race win streak on turf for trainer Carla Gaines, and the lightly-raced 4-year-old son of Redattore makes his stakes debut in the Kilroe.
Also on the improve is 6-year-old Monzante, who comes off a one-mile classified allowance win Jan. 14 for Mitchell. That was Monzante's first victory since the 2008 Eddie Read. Garrett Gomez retains the mount.
$250,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT, Race 9, 4:08 p.m), 4 & Up (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Red Sun (CA), V Espinoza, 111, C Gaines
2. Blue Chagall (FR), A O Solis, 114, J C Canani
3. Awesome Gem (KY), D R Flores, 117, C Dollase
4. Acclamation (CA), M Garcia, 114, D Warren
5. Ever a Friend (KY), J Rosario, 118, M R Mitchell
6. Red Alert Day (GB), R Bejarano, 113, N D Drysdale
7. Monzante (KY), G K Gomez, 115, M R Mitchell
8. Proviso (GB), M E Smith, 114, W I Mott
9. Fluke (BRZ), J Talamo, 116, H Ascanio
10. Battle of Hastings (GB), T Baze, 119, J Mullins
11. Tuscan Evening (IRE), F Valdez, 116, J Hollendorfer