11/04/2009 1:00AM

Tuscan Evening set for best


ARCADIA, Calif. - When Tuscan Evening was not drag racing down Santa Anita's hillside turf course in vain pursuit of Gotta Have Her, she put together a decent record in two-turn races this year.

Tuscan Evening won the Redondo Beach Stakes in June and the Grade 2 Royal Heroine Stakes in July, both over a mile on turf at Hollywood Park. She is a leading contender in Friday's $200,000 Las Palmas Handicap at Santa Anita.

Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Tuscan Evening was third in her last start, the Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap on the hillside turf course here on Oct. 17. She finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Gotta Have Her, who is bound for Saturday's BC Turf Sprint.

In longer races, Tuscan Evening has displayed the ability to lead or stalk the pace. That versatility will be key in the Grade 2 Las Palmas, which is run over a mile on turf.

"She had a good prep and lost to a good filly going down the hill," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. "We think she'll be really competitive. I think she can come from off the pace."

The Las Palmas drew 14 fillies and mares; Tuscan Evening will be near the front. Jockey Rafael Bejarano, who was aboard for the Redondo Beach and Royal Heroine wins, will need to save some of the 4-year-old filly's energy for the stretch.

The Las Palmas has drawn a competitive field, including Internallyflawless, the winner of the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks in August; Teamgeist, who was third in the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 11; Tizaqueena, second in the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 10; and Zardana, the winner of the Swingtime Stakes here on Oct. 12.

Zardana likes to run near the front, which trainer John Shirreffs said makes it tough on jockey Victor Espinoza.

"We do what we can to keep her from being too aggressive in the morning," Shirreffs said. "Victor is such a strong rider that he takes a hold and never changes position on her. You only get to take one hold. You don't get two."

Teamgeist, a five-time stakes winner in Argentina, is seeking her first win in the United States. Her trainer, Kenneth McPeek, said the Las Palmas is a prep for the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 28.

Zenyatta will not be the odds-on favorite for the first time since she was second choice to Ginger Punch in the April 2008 Apple Blossom. That day, 9-5 looked pretty good. I am not so sure 5-2 or 3-1 looks so good this time. But, if Zenyatta wins again, it will look plenty good to the true believers who never needed to ask any questions and knew the answers all along.