TUSCAN EVENING CLOSES OUT FOUR-GRADED-STAKES-WIN SEASON WITH SANTA BARBARA VICTORY; MR GRUFF REPEATS IN SAN SIMEON

ARCADIA, Calif. (April 17, 2010) – Escalating in distance with each of four graded stakes victories on turf, Tuscan Evening conquered 1 ¼ miles and three outclassed opponents in Saturday’s Grade II, $150,000 Santa Barbara Handicap to emerge as a leading Horse of the Meet candidate as Santa Anita’s 75th anniversary season nears the finish line.

As the 3-10 favorite in the 62nd running of the Santa Barbara for fillies and mares, the 5-year-old Irish-bred mare carried 124 pounds including jockey Rafael Bejarano to a one-length victory over General Consensus while running the distance in 2:00.22.

Her accomplishment of four graded stakes wins during a Santa Anita race meet has been exceeded only by the five that Hall of Famer Round Table won in 1958. The stakes won by Round Table would not become graded until the grading system was instituted in 1974.

Tuscan Evening won graded stakes ranging from 6 ½ furlongs to Saturday’s 1 ¼ miles. In Saturday’s coup de grace, her 124-pound impost was the most carried by any Santa Barbara winner since Waya bore 130 pounds in 1979. Female turf champions Miss Alleged and Estrapade finished second under 124-pound assignments in 1992 and 1986, respectively.

After Bejarano let Tuscan Evening assume the lead soon after Saturday’s break, she was able to dictate the terms. They included pedestrian early splits of 24.56, 49.02 and 1:13.77.

Restless Soul, who had been tracking in second under Joel Rosario, tried to apply some pressure nearing the far turn, but was quickly discouraged. Meanwhile, General Consensus, with Alex Solis aboard, closed gamely from last. They prompted Bejarano to bear down on the winner, but he only needed to show her the whip.

“She relaxed so well the whole race, and I never hit her today,” Bejarano said. “She was full of run at the finish.”

At the wire, it was another 4 ¾ lengths behind General Consensus to third-place Restless Soul. Éclair de Lune, the 7-2 second choice, was never a factor while running fourth.

With the late scratch of Cat by the Tale, 3-1 second choice on the morning line behind the 4-5 odds ascribed to the favorite, there was no show betting. Tuscan Evening paid $2.60 and $2.10. General Consensus paid $2.80 to place.

Bejarano said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer deserves “all the credit” for the accomplishments of Tuscan Evening, who has recorded 10 victories, a second and a pair of thirds in 14 trips to the post since joining Hollendorfer’s barn. Meantime, she has earned $816,555 for owner William de Burgh during the 15-month span.

“She kind of made her own way today, so I wasn’t real nervous,” said Hollendorfer in the winner’s circle. “She’s something. I give her the credit. She relaxed real nice, and when Rafael asked her, she had enough left.

“We were thrilled and we’re very fortunate. Winning these four races at different distances lets us consider a lot more things, but we’ll take a hard look at the Gamely (Grade I, $250,000 handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on May 29).”

Tuscan Evening’s escalating triumphs during the Santa Anita meet have included the Grade III Monrovia Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs, the Grade II Buena Vista Handicap at one mile, and the Grade II Santa Ana Handicap at 1 1/8 miles prior to the Santa Barbara.

Her ascension becomes even more remarkable when considering the bay mare arrived in the United States as an 11-race maiden in the winter of 2008 despite having earned $82,853 while racing in five Group events including a pair of Grade I stakes in Europe. Tuscan Evening’s career record has risen to 10-4-5 in 25 starts for income of $899,853.

Bejarano, who has ridden Tuscan Evening to seven wins while aboard eight times, was particularly jubilant after the Santa Barbara. “This is a very special day,” said the 27-year-old rider who has made a runaway of the meet’s jockeys’ standings. “My mother is here from Peru, and to have this filly win four times at longer distances, it is unbelievable.”

The Grade III, $100,000 San Simeon Handicap, the afternoon’s companion feature, went to 4-5 favorite Mr Gruff as the downhill turf course specialist became only the second back-to-back winner in the 43rd running of the event at 6 ½ furlongs on grass.

While providing trainer Ron Ellis with his third victory of the day, the 6-year-old bay gelding tallied by 2 ¼ lengths over Victor’s Cry while timed in 1:11.53 after having scored in 1:11.88 the previous year. Only stakes record holder Glick has run faster with a 1:11.46 clocking in 2004. Only Champagne Bid in 1984 had previously won back-to-back runnings of the San Simeon.

With Rosario in the saddle, Mr Gruff tracked swift starter Trumpet Player Jay in the field of eight, took command midway down the hill, opened up by 2 ½ in midstretch and was a handy winner. Victor’s Cry, with Corey Nakatani aboard, gained the place, three-quarters of a length ahead of third-place Ever a Friend with Tyler Baze in the irons.

With his San Simeon repeat, Mr Gruff paid $3.60, $2.60 and $2.20. Victor’s Cry, who went off a 10-1, paid $6 and $3.80. Ever a Friend, the 5-2 second choice, paid $2.60 to show.

Mr Gruff’s win over Santa Anita’s unique downhill turf layout was his fifth in six races over the course with only a nose setback separating him from perfection. Rosario has been aboard for the succession of downhill races after the Mr. Greeley gelding lost his first two over Santa Anita’s main track.

For Rosario, it was his 11th stakes win at the meet to move one victory ahead of Bejarano in that category, but the latter has run away with the riding title with 93 wins, 21 clear of Rosario, entering the season’s final day.

“Joel did a good job,” Ellis said following the San Simeon. “The horse broke a little flat-footed. He didn’t rush him and just kind of let him ease his way up there. It all went as planned after that.”

Following his 2009 triumph in the San Simeon, Mr Gruff had gone to the sidelines for 11 months. “It was just his back,” explained Ellis. According to the trainer, Mr Gruff was sent to owner Gary Broad’s Oakmont farm in Temecula. “They fixed him up and sent him back 110 percent,” said Ellis.

The gelding’s second San Simeon win was worth $60,000 to Broad while increasing Mr Gruff’s career earnings to $229,680 from an overall record of 5-2-0 in eight races.

Santa Anita’s anniversary season draws to a close on Sunday with a 10-race program climaxed by the 71st running of the historic Grade II, $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap, North America’s longest turf race at 1 ¾ miles. First post is at 12:30 p.m.