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TUSCAN EVENING SEEKS RARE GRADED STAKES QUADRUPLE UNDER 124 POUNDS IN SATURDAY’S GRADE II SANTA BARBARA HANDICAP
ARCADIA, Calif. (April 14, 2010) – Under a respectful burden of 124 pounds, Irish-bred Tuscan Evening goes after an extremely rare achievement – four graded stakes victories during a single Santa Anita meet -- on Saturday when challenged by five ambitious fillies and mares in the 62nd running of the Grade II, $150,000 Santa Barbara Handicap at 1 ¼ miles on turf.
Only one horse, Hall of Famer Round Table in 1958, has won five stakes races during a Santa Anita meet. That was before the sport’s stakes grading system was initiated in 1974, but Round Table’s victories came in stakes such as the Santa Anita Handicap that eventually would be graded.
Measured against history, the weight assignment is testimony to Tuscan Evening’s emerging greatness. Mighty little Megahertz carried 123 when winning her third straight Santa Barbara in 2005. The last Santa Barbara winner to carry more than 124 was champion older female Waya in 1979 when toting 130 pounds. Santa Barbara runners-up Miss Alleged and Estrapade, both female turf champions, carried 124 in 1992 and 1986, respectively.
Not only does Tuscan Evening face the test of history on Saturday, she will be trying 1 ¼ miles on turf for the first time after progressing from distances of 6 ½ furlongs, one mile and 1 1/8 miles with wins in the Grade III Monrovia, Grade II Buena Vista and Grade II Santa Ana Handicaps.
Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Tuscan Evening for William de Burgh, considered the Santa Ana triumph in relation to Saturday’s task. “She got a mile and an eighth,” he said, “and it looked like she did that pretty easily.”
Rafael Bejarano will be back aboard the 5-year-old mare whose career has turned dramatically since coming to the United States in the winter of 2008. She arrived as an 11-race maiden. Nonetheless, she had earned $82,853 while racing in five Group events including a pair of Group Is as a maiden in Europe.
Tuscan Evening’s earnings have soared to $809,853 over the past 15 months with nine victories, a second and a pair of thirds in 13 trips to the post. Bejarano has been in the saddle for six of those wins and was aboard for a second-place finish to Ventura in Hollywood Park’s Grade I Matriarch last November, marking the only time he’s failed to reach the winner’s circle when partnered with the Hollendorfer trainee.
Cat by the Tale, second in the Santa Ana, fourth in the Buena Vista and third behind Tuscan Evening in Oak Tree’s Grade II Las Palmas Handicap last November, will take up the chase once again for owner Matthew Cloros and Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale.
Cat by the Tale was beaten by 1 ¼ lengths in the Santa Ana while getting six pounds from Tuscan Evening. The spread will be seven this time, and Drysdale is hoping that the added distance will be advantageous to his 5-year-old Tale of the Cat mare. Tyler Baze takes over in the saddle.
Cat by the Tale won the Grade II San Gorgonio Handicap by a widening 2 ½ lengths at 1 1/8 miles on turf on Jan. 2 without the presence of Tuscan Evening. The chestnut mare comes into the Santa Barbara with income of $287,258 from a career record of 5-2-5 in 19 starts.
The complete field for the Santa Barbara Handicap, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Cat by the Tale, Tyler Baze, 117; Tuscan Evening, Rafael Bejarano, 124; Restless Soul, Brice Blanc, 116; Medaglia d’Amour, Joel Rosario, 113; General Consensus, Alex Solis, 115, and Éclair de Lune, Joseph Talamo, 114.
In a companion feature, the 43rd running of the Grade III, $100,000 San Simeon Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course, Grade I stakes winner Ever a Friend is the 120-pound high weight among eight entrants.
Two races after being claimed by trainer Mike Mitchell for $62,500 on behalf of Dan Capen and partners, Ever a Friend was victorious in the 2008 running of Santa Anita’s Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile when he defeated Artiste Royal by 3 ¾ lengths.
The 7-year-old gray gelding subsequently ran second in both Hollywood Park’s Grade I Shoemaker Mile in 2008 and Grade I Citation Handicap in 2009 during a career that has been compacted by several lengthy layoffs.
Ever a Friend returned from 3 ½ months on the sidelines to finish a troubled sixth as the 5-2 favorite in last month’s Kilroe Mile. His best races have come with Tyler Baze aboard, and they will be reunited on Saturday over a layout on which Ever a Friend has won both previous starts. He enters the competition with career earnings of $526,568 from a 6-4-2 record in 22 races.
Ever a Friend must deal with defending champion and course specialist Mr Gruff, a lightly-raced 6-year-old gelding who has won 4 of 5 starts over the unique hillside layout with only a nose loss separating him from perfection. Joel Rosario rides Gary Broad’s son of Mr. Greeley who established his class when taking last year’s San Simeon by three-quarters of a length over Doppio.
Trained by Ron Ellis, Mr Gruff was moved to the downhill turf course after losing his first two starts over Santa Anita’s main track while beginning his career as a 4-year-old in 2008. Ellis has not raced him anywhere else since the bay gelding broke his maiden by 4 ½ lengths over the strip early last year. Mr Gruff has earned $169,680 from an overall record of 4-2-0 in seven starts.
The complete field for the San Simeon Handicap, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Cherokee Heaven, Talamo, 116; Victor’s Cry, Corey Nakatani, 116; Ever a Friend, Tyler Baze, 120; Mr Gruff, Rosario, 118; Canonize, Jose Valdivia Jr., 116; Noble Court, Bejarano, 119; Trumpet Player Jay, Martin Garcia, 113, and Tiz West, Mike Smith, 114.
The Santa Barbara will be contested as the fourth race on a 10-race program with the San Simeon going as the ninth. First post on the final Saturday of Santa Anita’s 75th anniversary meet is at 12:30 p.m.