01/06/2011 7:27PM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Evening Jewel

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Benoit & Associates

As great as 2010 turned out to be for Evening Jewel, a nose here and a nose there might have made it that much better. But for an inch or two in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes and the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, the filly not only would have taken home considerably more than the $915,343 she bankrolled from nine starts, but she also might have swayed more Eclipse voters into her corner.

Nonetheless, few 3-year-old fillies were more consistent, versatile, and productive in 2010 than Evening Jewel, whose co-owner, Tom Braly, died Sept. 3, leaving the filly to his wife, Marilyn. Based in Southern California with trainer Jim Cassidy, Evening Jewel was never out of the money during 2010, posting 4 wins, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds while racing at a variety of distances and over a variety of surfaces.

The year started over the synthetic track at Santa Anita with a runner-finish to Crisp in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel, then a tough beat to Blind Luck in the Feb. 13 Las Virgenes. Shipped to Keeneland for a run over Polytrack in the Grade 1 Ashland, Evening Jewel took the initiative straight from the gate and held on gamely by a neck.

Next came the April 30 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, where Blind Luck had the more fortunate head-bob in a finish where the result was impossible to determine without benefit of a microscope – or at least a digital photo-finish camera. Evening Jewel ran a sensational race that hot afternoon, relaxing perfectly before charging to the lead in midstretch and valiantly trying to match strides with Blind Luck to the bitter end. The finish had the Churchill crowd in a frenzy, and it was only after close examination of the photo that Blind Luck was determined the winner. It was, said Cassidy, “the worst beat of my life, without question.”

Returned to her home base and switched to the turf, Evening Jewel then went on a remarkable run, compiling three straight victories, in the Grade 2 Honeymoon, the Grade 2 San Clemente, and the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. Cassidy then took aim at another grass race, the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland.

“She’s been just a wonderful filly this year,” he said beforehand. “She’s shown she can handle pretty much any distance or surface while racing against the best of her class. She can run on the lead if that’s what the race dictates, or she can come from off it if they’re going too fast. I can’t say enough good things about her. She’s a sweetheart.”

Alas, Evening Jewel finished third in the QEII before Cassidy elected to pass on the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic in favor of switching to a dirt sprint in the Nov. 5 Sentient Jet BC Filly-Mare Sprint at Churchill. The filly was her usual steady self, rallying to be third behind Dubai Majesty and Switch in a field of 13.

Evening Jewel, an $8,000 yearling purchase, is by Northern Afleet out of Jewel of the Night, by Giant’s Causeway. She was bred in California by the late Betty Mabee and her son, Larry. Victor Espinoza was her jockey throughout the year, except for when Kent Desormeaux rode her in the Ashland and Kentucky Oaks.

Evening Jewel has remained in training at Santa Anita and already has made one start as a 4-year-old, finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Monrovia at Santa Anita.

PAST PERFORMANCES: Evening Jewel's 2010 season PPs (PDF)

KEY RACE REPLAY: Del Mar Oaks at Del Mar >>