03/19/2010 12:00AM

Plenty to like with Tuscan Evening

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Horses with early and tactical speed have been very effective in route races on Santa Anita's turf course. Tuscan Evening figures to take full advantage of that fact on Sunday when she tackles Grade 2 opponents going 1 1/8 miles in the Santa Ana Handicap.

Tuscan Evening led once and was second twice at the first call in her three route starts this year. If necessary, she is capable of showing more speed than that as she pressed a fast pace going 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill on the grass in her win in the Grade 3 Morvich. But she doesn't figure to need to run as fast as that in this race. She's the speed of the race and is likely to control the pace. She would be formidable under that scenario, but she also has displayed some flexibility and doesn't need the early lead to be victorious. If a rival chooses to wrest the early lead from her, she has demonstrated that she can still enjoy a great trip while tracking the leader. That was the pace scenario she encountered last time when she rated a few lengths behind the leader in second, assumed command, then drew off to win the Grade 2 Buena Vista by 2 1/4 lengths.

There is more to like about Tuscan Evening than her running style. She loves Santa Anita's turf course, with 5 wins and 2 third-place finishes from 7 local starts. Her overall consistency also is impressive. She shows 8 wins from her last 12 races and finished among the top three 11 times.

Handicappers who are interested in betting against Tuscan Evening will probably question her ability to get the 1 1/8-mile distance. Her last four route wins were in one-mile races, but she won a 1 1/16-mile race last year. She finished eighth of nine in her lone previous race at this distance, but that was against Grade 1 company last year. She increased her lead from a half-length in midstretch to 2 1/4 lengths at the finish last time in her victory in the Buena Vista. Anyone who saw that one-mile race knows that she showed more late kick than any of the other contenders at the finish. If she had needed to cover an extra furlong that day it seems likely that she would have extended her advantage rather than giving any of it back. Factor in the likelihood of a favorable pace scenario and a favorable track bias, and I like her chances of winning despite the added distance.

The battle for second should be competitive.

Cat by the Tale finished fourth behind Tuscan Evening in the Buena Vista, but she is capable of a better performance. She finished first, third, and third in her three previous races at this class level, and she likes the turf at Santa Anita with three wins and a third from five local races.

Eissoai finished second behind Tuscan Evening as a 35-1 longshot in the Buena Vista. She showed tactical speed in each of her last two races and should get a good trip with a similar journey in this race.

Treat Gently had trouble in the Grade 2 San Gorgonio when her saddle slipped a bit, but she still finished second behind Cat by the Tale.

April Pride likes the turf at Santa Anita, with 2 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third-place finish from 6 starts. She won the Grade 3 Harold C. Ramser at Oak Tree in her last race and has been training well for her return.

General Consensus is another horse for the course, with 3 wins, 2 seconds, and 2 thirds from 9 tries. She has won two of her last three races, but she was battling softer company. Stretching out from a mile to 1 1/8 miles will help, since she is a closer, but if speed is sticking she would still be at a disadvantage.

Belmont Cat won this race last year, but she regressed when she finished fifth in the Grade 3 Wilshire. She took nine months off following that race, then finished 12th in the Grade 3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream when she returned last month.

Chasin Dreams will have to improve to contend.

I'll bet on Tuscan Evening to win, and I'll key her on top in the exacta with Cat by the Tale, Eissoai, Treat Gently, and April Pride for second.