Aqueduct Race Report: Good Night

Published in the Nov. 30 issue of The Blood-Horse
When one door closes, another door opens. When New York Racing Association officials decided to take the Nov. 23 Red Smith Handicap off the turf (downgraded from gr. IIT to gr. III), they shut the door in the faces of the local turf horses who were hoping for one last chance at a stakes victory this year. But that decision opened another door, and who should come barging in but none other than Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Evening Attire.

Just like that, trainer Pat Kelly saved himself the hassle of shipping to Churchill Downs for the Nov. 29 Clark Handicap (gr. II) and was able to stay at home and watch his big gray gelding stroll around the Aqueduct track as if he were out for a morning gallop. Instead of having to run 1 1/8 miles in the Clark, Evening Attire was able to saunter 1 3/8 miles over the same kind of drying out track he relished in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Coming from next to last in the six-horse field, the son of Black Tie Affair cruised by the leaders at the quarter pole and drew off to an easy eight-length victory.

With the switch in surfaces, only four of the original 13 horses entered for the turf were daring enough to stay in and face Evening Attire, who has established himself as one of the best horses in the country. Another who popped in from the "main track only" list was the Todd Pletcher-trained Fisher Pond, whose only two career victories have come in races taken off the turf. He broke his maiden by 15 1/2 lengths in June over a wet-fast track and won the Lawrence Realization (originally gr. IIIT) in his last start in the slop by 4 1/4 lengths.

But neither he nor any of the others were on the same planet as Evening Attire, who showed his class and total domination over this group with one of the easiest victories seen this year. Even opening a seven-length lead at the eighth pole and coasting home from there, he still managed to come home his final eighth in a sharp :12.56, with jockey Shaun Bridgmohan twice looking back over his shoulder. Fisher Pond, in receipt of 10 pounds (126-116) from the winner, out-battled Pleasant Breeze for second by a length.

The Red Smith capped off a remarkable year for Evening Attire, who pulled off the rare feat of winning over every dirt surface in New York--Belmont, Saratoga, and both the main and inner dirt tracks at Aqueduct. His only defeat in his last four starts was a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), a race he had virtually no chance of winning, having to come from 11th, 13 lengths back, over a pronounced speed-favoring track.

The Red Smith also capped off an unforgettable year for 83-year-old Thomas "T.J." Kelly, who bred and owns Evening Attire with longtime friends and partners Joseph and Mary Grant. What has made the experience even more special is that, Kelly, a Hall of Fame trainer, has been able to share it with his three sons, Pat, Larry, and Tim, all of whom have trained Evening Attire at some point.

"It's been a miracle year," T.J. said. "You couldn't put on a show like this, with Patty, Timmy, and Larry all getting a piece of him. And he's sure helped Patty after he got bumped from the Charlotte Weber horses. He was running around with his lip hanging down for a while, and then this horse came along and picked him up. It's just overwhelming to me. I can't even put it into words."

Larry, who was Evening Attire's first trainer and now works as a jockey's agent, said, "It's been a great time for a rebirth. Timmy, Pat, and I have taken our blows in the business. But this is so wonderful watching Pop enjoying himself. This caps off a great career for him and keeps him going." b

Pulling Up
Justifying her 4-5 odds on Nov. 24, Win and Place Stable and William Hurwitz's Randaroo scored a decisive wire-to-wire 5 1/4-length victory in the $111,300 Valley Stream Stakes (gr. III) for 2-year-old fillies. The daughter of Gold Case, trained by Tony Dutrow, blazed the six furlongs in 1:09.46. House Party finished second, with Fast Cookie third.

(Chart, Equibase)