Belmont Park Race Report: Special Evening

Published in the Oct. 5 issue of The Blood-Horse
Evening Attire's victory in the 84th Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) was about the great American dream. But most of all, it was about New York, and about family.

Hall of Fame trainer Tommy Kelly, better known as T.J., celebrated his 83rd birthday five days before the Sept. 28 Gold Cup. One of the top trainers in New York for four decades, Kelly, in early 1990, purchased a 2-year-old filly named Concolour privately for $70,000 from one of his old clients, John and Esther duPont Thouron. Turned over to Kelly's son, Tim, to train, the daughter of Our Native won one of four career starts.

"She broke her maiden in the dead of winter for a $35,000 claiming tag with Diane Nelson up, running six furlongs in 1:13 and change," Tim Kelly recalled. "She had physical problems and Dad retired her. For her to wind up producing the winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup with a home-grown horse like Evening Attire is what this game is all about. All the kids love following "Bo Bo's" horse. That's what they call Dad. This horse has been great for the whole family and he's keeping Dad young."

Evening Attire was a "big, gangly kid" when he was two. Owned by T.J. and his longtime partners Joe and Mary Grant, the colt was trained at Hialeah by another son, Larry.

"I'll never forget the first time I watched this horse breeze at Hialeah," Joe Grant recalled. "T.J. turned to me and said, 'That's a special horse.' "

Evening Attire was then sent to New York in 2000 and turned over to Tim, who later that year retired after 20 years as a trainer to work for the New York Racing Association, where he now serves as a placing and patrol judge. Evening Attire then went to Kelly's oldest son, Pat, who has developed the gray son of Black Tie Affair into one of the leading older horses in the country. "It looks like T.J. was right," Grant said.

When Tim had Evening Attire, he was impressed with the colt's professionalism and his long stride. "Nothing ever rattled him," he said. "He was like an older horse. But he had one undescended testicle that might have been bothering him and a few little quirks and growing pains. We also discovered he had a small chip in his knee, and after it was removed we also had him gelded."

After Pat took over and eventually stretched him out in distance, Evening Attire became a different horse. He knocked off heavily favored Street Cry at 65-1 in last fall's Discovery Handicap (gr. III), then rattled off two more stakes victories in the Queens County Handicap (gr. III) in December, and the Aqueduct Handicap (gr. III) over the inner track in January.

Following a 10-length allowance score in the slop, a fast-closing second in the Massachusetts Handicap (gr. II), and a solid fourth in a paceless Suburban Handicap (gr. II), Evening Attire turned in a powerful stretch run to win the 10-furlong Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) on a wet track, labeled good.

That's when the Grant and Kelly clans began thinking about the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). Previously, Pat Kelly had only referred to it as "that race in Chicago." Now it had a name and a face. A victory in the Gold Cup, and that face would be shouting out $4 million and Eclipse Award.

When Tropical Storm Isidore dumped two days of rain on Belmont, it didn't bother Kelly in the slightest. He knew a wet track would move his horse up. His main concern was the weight, as Evening Attire would have to pick up 11 pounds for the weight-for-age race.

Even with War Emblem, Came Home, and Medaglia d'Oro passing up the race in order to train up to the Classic, the Gold Cup drew a solid field, headed by Woodward (gr. I) winner Lido Palace and Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Milwaukee Brew, both from the Bobby Frankel stable, and the classy 3-year-olds Repent and Harlan's Holiday. Those two provided the Gold Cup with an intriguing subplot, with Repent's trainer, Kenny McPeek, facing Harlan's Holiday for the first time since the dual grade I winner was taken away from him after the Preakness (gr. I).

"This should be interesting," Harlan's Holiday's owner Jack Wolf said in the paddock before the race. Repent's owner, Jerry Bach, was pumped, and desperately wanted a grade I victory for his colt, who was coming off a brilliant comeback effort in the Travers Stakes (gr. I), in which he was narrowly beaten by Medaglia d'Oro. "I want this race so badly I can taste it," Bach said. "He's such a good horse, I just wish he'd get that grade I under his belt."

Although Frankel felt after the Travers that the race "cooked" Repent, the son of Louis Quatorze was made the strong favorite at 8-5. Evening Attire, as he's been most of his career, was ignored at 9-1.

While the Gold Cup drew horses who had run in Chile, Dubai, Japan, Canada, and racetracks all over the United States, Evening Attire had made 15 of his 16 career starts in New York. "He's won on fast, sloppy, and good tracks, and even in the snow, jumping the snow tracks (in the Aqueduct Handicap)," Pat Kelly said. "We didn't go anywhere. We stayed right here with him all winter, spaced his races out, and got tougher races in him as the summer went on."

At the start of the Gold Cup, Evening Attire broke a step slowly and immediately dropped back to last under Shaun Bridgmohan, who earlier in the week had won five races on a single card. Harlan's Holiday broke alertly from the rail, with Abreeze right alongside. After the short run into the backstretch, Repent, surprisingly, came charging up along the inside under Edgar Prado to challenge for the lead. With the "good" track blazing fast times all day, it was also surprising to see opening fractions of :24.69 and :48.08.

Abreeze established a short lead as they continued down the backstretch, followed by Harlan's Holiday and Repent. Lido Palace was in good position right behind, with deep closers Puzzlement and Milwaukee Brew within striking distance. Bridgmohan let Evening Attire settle in seventh along the inside, about five lengths off the lead.

As the pace quickened, with six furlongs going in 1:11.36, Repent began dropping back, leaving Abreeze on the lead, tracked closely by Harlan's Holiday on the inside and Lido Palace, with Milwaukee Brew and Nothing Flat moving strongly on the outside. Bridgmohan brought Evening Attire off the rail and split Puzzlement and Repent, both of whom were already in retreat. When he ran up behind the three leaders at the quarter pole, Bridgmohan went to two right-handed whips followed by three left-handed whips. When a huge hole appeared between Abreeze and Lido Palace, Bridgmohan stepped on the gas, and Evening Attire hit another gear and shot right through. Bridgmohan gave him a quick yank to get him to change leads and the race was over.

Evening Attire drew off under a hand ride to win by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:59.58 for the 10 furlongs. Even on a lightning-fast track like this, one had to be impressed with Evening Attire's final three quarters of :23, :23 2/5, and :23 4/5.

Lido Palace was second by three-quarters of a length over Harlan's Holiday, who barely held off the furious late charge of Nothing Flat by a nose.

Continued...

(Chart, Equibase)

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