Evening Gone Too Soon

By Becky Johnston

Evening gone to soon

It is an understatement to say this sport has highs and lows. 

Even after 20 years, I am still surprised when the cold slap of reality strikes me firmly across the face.  I chastise myself in these instances for allowing my spirit to go to those peaks with the sport.  The fall comes faster than any chair can be pulled from beneath you and the ground is so much harder.


The weekend that was

Friday's races at Saratoga brought the fairytale story of a half-blind filly that carries the hopes of his owner/trainer and possibly the spirit of Lisa's Booby Trap's namesake.   You couldn't have hoped for a better outcome than her win.  The trust and faith of man and beast even extended to jockey Kent Desormeaux, who has seen a few better days too.

Oh the places they take us!

The Whitney showcased what can be great about this sport.  The challenge to fans and handicappers to pledge their allegiance to one side or the other, with great passion for their chosen horse.  Let the arguments begin!   It has been a long time since we have had this kind of race at this point in the summer for the handicap division.   The colts have won 15 of their 21 starts.

Could Quality Road defeat a great colt like Blame, giving him five pounds and go a distance that might be a touch longer than his brilliance can carry him?  Handicappers then had to wonder if Blame would have enough pace to run into.  Would he have the ground necessary to catch Quality Road, even with his powerful closing clip.

Two great colts owned by longtime thoroughbred owners that possess their share of our sport's great history and the race was no disappointment.  The contest decided by a short margin that left plenty of room for debate before the next meeting.


Oh yes and her!

Then Zenyatta takes us to the ballet for the evening.  It doesn't matter what the margin of victory is.  It doesn't matter if there is no great drama.  She hits her crescendo like a fine orchestra giving the performance of it's life. 

She came out and did her dance.  She performed and then with a charming arrogance asks the crowd "How do you like me now?"


We like!

After Zenyatta's race, melancholy sets in a little.  The realization there are only a couple more dates for us with Zenyatta.  My thoughts quickly shift and I comfort myself with thoughts of all the exciting dates to come.  Blind Luck facing off against Devil May Care in the Alabama on August 21st.  Arlington Million day and the gutsy Tuscan Evening in the Beverly D.  The Pacific Classic, the fall New York series, and finally the Breeders' Cup and the return of Goldikova.


Our cup runneth over!

Try as I might to remember the hurt, I sometimes get so caught up in the loftiness of the highs I forget to protect myself from the bitter certainty of the lows.  They hit you with such surprising cruelty just as sure as the sun will rise each day. Racing fans are resilient, we live for the highs of the sport.  We somehow must make peace with the lows.

The news Sunday morning of the loss of the gutsy Tuscan Evening could not have been more unexpected.  Again, I chastise myself for letting my feet come off the ground and to count on things that might never come to pass.

We will never again see the milky-mouthed mare run her heart out.  The one thing I was sure of, she would never run out of heart.  Unfortunately, these are not mythical creatures.  They are living, breathing fragile blessings that sweep into our lives and then just as quickly disappear.  Alas, they can simply run out of heart.

These glorious creatures give us afternoons where problems float away, giving us respite from the mundane ordinary things that fill our lives with forgettable duties.  We drudge through to get to the good stuff. 

Well, Tuscan Evening was a part of my good stuff.


Stark Morning

Tuscan Evening gone on August 8th, 2010 at the age of five. 

She started her career the same year as Zenyatta, but the bay filly had a different beginning.  Her seventh place finish at Naas Racecourse May 16, 2007 in County Kildare gave no inkling of what she might become.  She raced at two Royal Ascot meetings before we even knew her in this country.  She was 0 for 11 in two years time, but her connections must have seen the possibility of her.  After an ownership change in her three-year-old season, the winless filly managed a Group 1 placing with a second in the Irish One Thousand Guineas in 2008.  Tuscan Evening was a head away from being a classic winner.

Jerry Hollendorfer took over the training of the filly at the end of the 2008 season.  He first saddled her for owner William DeBurgh on January 22, 2009 in a maiden special weight race at Santa Anita, her twelfth start.  The Irish filly was a California Girl now and it appeared to agree with her.  She won her first race by a commanding five lengths on the tricky downhill course in 1:12. 

The four-year-old peeled off four more wins in her next five starts including the Grade 2 Royal Heroine at Hollywood Park.  She threw in a clunker at Del Mar in the Grade 1 John C. Mabee last summer behind Magical Fantasy with an eight place finish, but that was the last time she would fail to hit the board. 

After a third place finish in her next start, she would re-partner with jockey Rafael Bejarano who had already won twice with the daughter of Oasis Dream.  They added seven more wins, losing only once to Ventura in last year's Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes.  She was undefeated, a perfect 6-0 this year, all in graded company.  Her first Grade 1 win in the Gamely Handicap appeared to be far from her last, but it was to be her last and only Grade 1 win. 


What might have been.....

Here are some of the great memories that Tuscan Evening leaves behind for her fans. 

June 6, 2009, Tuscan Evening earns her first stakes victory in the Redondo Beach at Hollywood Park



The filly scores her first graded stakes race in the Royal Heroine (G2) on July 11, 2009



In 2010 Tuscan Evening reeled off three straight before entering the Santa Barbara, a mile and a quarter test on April 17, 2010.



The Gamely, the elusive Grade 1, was next on May 29th.  This was Tuscan Evening's third try for the highest grade in this country.  It wasn't going to be easy with former champion Forever Together shipping in.


"No matter what you do, you can't beat her." Vic Stauffer


Sadly Arlington Park's Modesty Handicap, a Grade 3 prep for the Grade 1 The Beverly D was to be her last start.  She removed another question mark from any doubters left out there, she could win outside of California.


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