Tuscan Evening will seek to accomplish a feat no horse in recent memory has at Santa Anita Saturday when she runs in the Grade II, $150,000 Santa Barbara Handicap for older fillies and mares.

The 5-year-old Irish-bred mare will attempt to stretch her speed and endurance to win her fourth straight graded stakes this meet in the Santa Barbara, which is run at a mile and a quarter on turf. Tuscan Evening already has captured three graded stakes at shorter distances: the Grade III Monrovia Handicap at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf Jan.3; the Grade II Buena Vista Handicap at one mile on turf Feb. 15; and the Grade II Santa Ana Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf March 21.

The great Round Table won five straight stakes at the 1957-58 Santa Anita meet: the Malibu in 1957; and the San Fernando Stakes, the Santa Anita Maturity (now the Strub Stakes), the San Antonio Handicap and the Santa Anita Handicap, all in 1958.

“She has speed, class and she finishes strong,” said Dan Ward, assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains the bay daughter of Oasis Dream. “She’s a professional. She’s very happy to train and loves to go out to the track. She’s feeling good all the time.”

That might not have been the case overseas, where she was winless in 11 starts. Since coming stateside to Team Hollendorfer late in 2008, Tuscan Evening has won nine of 13 starts for owner William de Burgh of Rancho Santa Fe.

“She’s confident now,” Ward said. “When you win some races, you get more confidence. When Tuscan Evening came to us, she was 0 for 11. We were able to get her in some easy races right off the bat and it built her confidence.”

The field for the Santa Barbara, the fourth of 10 races: 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, Joe Talamo, 114.


Barry Abrams takes a realistic view about running Unusual Suspect in Sunday’s traditional closing-day feature at Santa Anita, the Grade II, $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap at about 1 3/4 miles on turf.

With Bourbon Bay and Stalingrad certain to monopolize the mutuel wagering, Abrams would be thrilled with a good showing by Unusual Suspect, who will be making his fifth start this meet. “It’s a tough race and I’m hoping he finishes in the money,” the trainer said. “Every horse in the race is an unknown quantity at this distance, but my horse is a marathon horse and I’ve got nowhere else to run anyway, so we’ll see what happens.”

Unusual Suspect is a 6-year-old horse by the prolific sire Unusual Heat, now 20, who stands at Old English Rancho in Sanger for $20,000. “We plan to keep him in California as long as he can breed, then he’ll have a good home to live out his life,” Abrams said. “As long as he’s OK, he’ll stand at stud again next season.”

Unusual Suspect has an 8-5-4 record from 45 starts, with earnings of $772,850 for Abrams, who owns the horse along with his wife, Dyan, and his brother, David.

The San Juan will go as the 10th race of the day and final race of the meet. “We wanted to go out with a bang” said Santa Anita Racing Secretary Rick Hammerle.

The field for the San Juan Capistrano: Job Boss, Danny Sorenson, 113; Romp, Joel Rosario, 115; Yodelen Dan, Victor Espinoza, 113; Falcon Rock, Joe Talamo, 114; Unusual Suspect, Alonso Quinonez, 115; Skellytown, Martin Garcia, 113; Quindici Man, no rider, 115; Muhannak, Brice Blanc, 116; Tap It Light, Tyler Baze, 116; Bourbon Bay, Rafael Bejarano, 122; Stalingrad, David Flores, 117; and the mare Princess Taylor, Mike Smith, 110.


Tyler Baze is back on Ever a Friend and couldn’t be happier. The 27-year-old jockey reunites with the 7-year-old gelding for Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 San Simeon Handicap for older horses at about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf after an absence of two races. Prior to that, Baze had ridden the Kentucky-bred gray in four straight, winning three and finishing second the other time. One win came in the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile in March of 2008. The other came in the restricted Impressive Luck Handicap over Santa Anita’s unique downhill turf course on Dec. 31, 2007.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back on him,” Baze said of the son of Crafty Friend trained by Mike Mitchell. “I worked him once for this race and he’s doing really well. He’s very consistent and gives his best almost every time. They’re the kind of horses you like to ride.” Ever a Friend was close to the pace in this year’s Kilroe on March 6, his first race since Nov. 27, 2009, when he was second in the Grade I Citation Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on Hollywood Park’s turf course.

Ever a Friend has a 6-4-2 record from 22 starts, with earnings of $526,568 for owners Dan Capen and Steve Ustin.

The field for the San Simeon, the ninth of 10 races: Cherokee Heaven, Joe Talamo, 116; Victor’s Cry, Corey Nakatani, 116; Ever a Friend, Tyler Baze, 120; Mr Gruff, Joel Rosario, 118; Canonize, Jose Valdivia Jr., 116; Noble Court, Rafael Bejarano, 119; Trumpet Player Jay, Martin Garcia, 113; and Tiz West, Mike Smith, 114.


Santa Anita Park’s 75th anniversary season concludes Sunday and fans will be treated to a jockey autograph session in the East Paddock Gardens from 11 a.m. to 12 noon. Additionally, all fans will receive their choice of a beautiful 75th anniversary Wall Clock or a Derby Day Casual Dress Shirt, with paid admission, while supplies last.

Leading rider Rafael Bejarano, Mike Smith, Tyler Baze, Joel Rosario, Joe Talamo, Martin Pedroza, Brice Blanc, Martin Garcia and Omar Berrio are among those jockeys scheduled to participate.

Santa Anita, which opened on Dec. 25, 1934, and has been in continuous operation since, excepting three years due to World War II, is an iconic venue on the Southern California sports landscape. “The Great Race Place” predates all major league sports franchises in Southern California and is regarded as America’s most beautiful racing venue.

Admission gates open Sunday at 10:30 a.m. First post time is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

Santa Anita will be open for simulcast wagering during the upcoming Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Fairplex Park meetings and will reopen for live racing during the Oak Tree-at-Santa Anita meeting which begins Sept. 29.

FINISH LINES: Jose Valdivia Jr. leaves for the East Coast next Wednesday to ride full time at Philadelphia Park and Monmouth Park. “Business here was getting tougher,” the 35-year-old native of Peru said. “There are more riders and fewer horses. My business has dropped significantly. It’s not that you’re not a good rider; you’re just not fashionable anymore.” Through Wednesday, Valdivia had five wins from 77 mounts. His business has been handled by agent Jim Pegram, who effective immediately, has taken the book of Martin Garcia. Garcia fired Vic Stauffer on Wednesday. Agent Bob Klesaris will represent Valdivia on the East Coast . . . Kerwin John will return to ride at Hollywood Park after a stint in his native St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands. “He’ll start working horses at Santa Anita tomorrow,” said his agent, Brandon O’Bryan . . . Former WBC super bantamweight champion Israel Vazquez will make an appearance Saturday at Santa Anita Park to present the winner’s trophy following the San Simeon Handicap. Vazquez, who trains in Hollywood, is scheduled to fight Rafael Marquez on May 22 at Staples Center in a bout being dubbed “Once and Four All.” . . . Santa Anita Derby runner-up and Kentucky Derby hopeful Setsuko worked five furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Thursday under Rafael Bejarano in 1:02.80 for Richard Mandella. “It was just an easy five-eighths,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “We still hope to get in to the Derby (Setsuko currently is short on graded earnings with $180,000). We’ll do something more serious next week.”. . . Tomorrow is the final Free Friday at Santa Anita this meet. Patrons will receive free General Admission and box seats, while supplies last, as well as being offered $1 hot dogs, beers, sodas, popcorn and coffee. On Saturday, all fans in attendance at Santa Anita will receive a free Santa Anita Park baseball cap, courtesy of San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, with paid admission while supplies last . . . Ever wonder what it’s like to be part owner of a superstar race horse? Author Dr. Richard Fox chronicles his experiences as an owner of Star Over the Bay in his book, “A Shooting Star, A Horseracing Tale,” which he will autograph Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon at Champions! Gift Shop in the East Paddock Gardens across from the walking ring . . . Syndicated handicapper Jerry Antonucci and HRTV’s Peter Lurie will be Jack Disney’s guests on Sunday’s championship pairing in the meet’s final Fans’ Forum, 11:15 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens.