05/21/2010 12:00AM

Tuscan Evening will feel heat late


PHOENIX - The national racing eye tilts toward Belmont for the coming weeks, with the likes of Quality Road eyeing Memorial Day's Grade 1 Met Mile and the best 3-year-olds eyeing the Grade 1 Belmont a few days later.

But Hollywood Park won't be outdone Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday, the Grade 1 Gamely matches the West's best middle-distance turf distaffers, including Tuscan Evening, who has become a beast. She was the horse of the meet at Santa Anita, where she won four grass stakes ranging from one at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside course to Grade 2's at a mile, 1 1/8 miles, and 1 1/4 miles. Speed is her primary weapon, but she doesn't need the lead to win.

That being said, there will be no margin for error in the Gamely. General Consensus gave Tuscan Evening a scare in the final furlong of the 1 1/4-mile Santa Barbara, losing by a length, and while this shorter trip of 1 1/8 miles may benefit Tuscan Evening even more, General Consensus can handle the distance as well.

Two others are dangerous -- Medaglia d'Amour and Well Monied. Medaglia d'Amour is blossoming. After a dull main-track sprint debut at Del Mar last summer, she had a long layoff and has flourished since moving to turf in her return Feb. 11. She has won all three of her grass starts, including the Grade 3 Wilshire on this course May 1. She will have no issue with the added ground, and her tactical speed gives her something few of Tuscan Evening's foes have had -- comparable speed and handiness.

Well Monied came into her own last spring when she won three straight, including the Grade 2 Honeymoon here, before finishing second in the Grade 1 American Oaks. She was third in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks and got a well-deserved break. She came back at Santa Anita on April 4 and proved she is feeling good by powering home to win. She and General Consensus can at least give Tuscan Evening and Medaglia d'Amour reason to look over their shoulder turning for home.

Monday's Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile figures to have pace/trip handicappers atwitter. Compari may go favored, having won six in a row, including the Grade 2 Arcadia at Santa Anita on April 3. He had a mild setback, missing last month's Grade 3 Inglewood with a bruised foot, but has worked strongly of late and is 2 for 2 on the Hollywood turf, with speed surely his primary asset.

Mr Gruff comes in with his own streak, having won four straight and five of his last six, the lone loss coming by a nose. All his work has been sprinting, and he ranks as the top grass sprinter out West, coming off a scintillating defense of his Grade 3 San Simeon crown at Santa Anita on April 17. Like Compari, speed is his main weapon, and this would mark his first route.

If there wasn't already enough speed with those two, there's Monterey Jazz, who knows only one way to go and doesn't figure to take back or get outrun early by the other two. Then word came Thursday that Kentucky-based speedster Karelian, a Grade 1 winner, will be in the race, and you know what his strategy is, right?

With all that pace, could this spell upset by a closer such as Riviera Cocktail, a recent allowance winner who also happens to be 2 for 2 on the Inglewood grass?

Ode to Skip Away and Snow Chief

Many tend to admire the common man, the guy who punches a clock.

We do it with horses, too, hence the long-lasting affection for the likes of John Henry. A branch from that tree lost two worthy members recently: Horse of the Year Skip Away and champion 3-year-old Snow Chief.

They personified the lunch-pail toter. Neither was regally bred, but who cares? Unlike the amazingly gifted, like Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who dogged it in a recent game, these guys were more like Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, who unlike Ramirez would run through a wall to try to catch a pop foul.