It’s hard to find an East Coast stakes race that Evening Attire hasn’t tried.
From the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), which he won in 2002, to his multiple victories in the Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Handicaps (gr. I), the gutsy gray gelding has churned through 60 career starts for owners Mary and Joseph Grant and Thomas J. Kelly – and when he steps onto the track at Suffolk Downs for the post parade of the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap, racing fans will experience a moment of equine déjà voux.
Yes, he’s been here before.
Evening Attire takes his third shot Sept. 22 at the MassCap, a race he has unsuccessfully tackled twice before. In 2002, the son of Black Tie Affair finished second by 1 3/4 lengths to Joe Orseno trainee Macho Uno in the 1 1/8-mile classic. In 2004, the last time the race was run (with a grade II status), he finished fifth behind a lineup that included victor Oflee Wild, Funny Cide, and The Lady’s Groom.
Evening Attire hasn’t won a race since March, when he took Aqueduct’s Stymie Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths. Still, he’s finished fourth or better in each of his past seven starts and comes off a third-place finish in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Saratoga Aug. 30, in which he spotted five pounds to the winner (118-123).
“He ran a pretty good race at the end of Saratoga and we were giving weight to everybody,” said trainer Patrick Kelly. “He’s been pretty competitive for the type of races he’s eligible for, but we’ve ended up running ambitiously a few times. The Grants live right up there in Boston so we’re kind of trying to win the hometown race, but we don’t have any illusions; we’re not the favorite now and I’m sure we won’t be.”
Evening Attire is the 5-1 third choice behind the race’s favorite, 4-year-old Fairbanks, a Todd Pletcher trainee who comes swashbuckling into the MassCap off a fourth-place finish in the July 28 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga. A $1,850,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga 2004 Select Yearling Sale, the son of Giant’s Causeway won the Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III) for Team Valor Stables in March, then finished second in the June 3 Suburban Handicap (gr. I).
"We liked the timing of the MassCap for Fairbanks," Pletcher said during a teleconference that was held at Suffolk Downs. "Five weeks out is good spacing if we decide to run him in the Breeders' Cup."
Fairbanks is eligible for a $100,000 winner's bonus offered by Suffolk to any horse who wins the MassCap and has won a graded stakes race at a mile or more this year. Also eligible for the bonus is 12-1 entry Palladio, a 5-year-old Roger Attfield trainee who won the Eclipse Stakes (gr. III) at Woodbine in July. Palladio, a son of Lycius, won the Ohio Derby (gr. II) in 2005.
Sandwiched between Fairbanks and Evening Attire on the morning line is Fred Bradley’s Brass Hat. The 6-year-old gelding last finished sixth in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) and eighth in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) after winning an allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs in July, when he returned off a year-long layup.
"I don't think our horse liked the (Saratoga) track that well," said trainer William "Buff" Bradley. "He trained beautifully up to those races. We were puzzled."
Rounding out the field are John Ward trainee Dr. Pleasure, second in an allowance optional claimer at Saratoga last time out; Del Carroll trainee Shuffling Maddnes, recently second in the General Douglas MacArthur Handicap at Belmont; Who What Win, third in the same race; and local horse Fire Striker, who comes off a victory in an Aug. 26 allowance race at Suffolk.
The inaugural MassCap, won by Top Row, was held in 1935 when Suffolk Downs opened. Through the years, champions such as Whirlaway (1942), Riva Ridge (‘73), Cigar (‘95-’96), and Skip Away (’97) won the race. Overall, 13 of the race’s last 14 runnings have been won by grade I winners.
Field for the 2007 Massachusetts Handicap:
1. Dr. Pleasure, Cornelio Velasquez, 6-1
2. Palladio, Richard Do Ramos, 12-1
3. Who What Win, Shaun Bridgmohan, 15-1
4. Fairbanks, Richard Migliore, 7-5
5. Shuffling Maddnes, Raul Rojas, 12-1
6. Fire Striker, Kevin Krigger, 30-1
7. Evening Attire, Jose Espinosa, 5-1
8. Brass Hat, Willie Martinez, 5-2