10/18/2002 12:00AM

Evening Attire apple of Kelly's eye


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Are the 3-year-olds good enough to beat their elders in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic?

With such prospects as Medaglia d'Oro, War Emblem, Came Home, Harlan's Holiday, Perfect Drift, and possibly Rock of Gibraltar and Hawk Wing, the answer appears to be a decided yes.

To win in world-class competition in the fall of the year requires a 3-year-old with above-average quantities of speed and class. This year's leading 3-year-olds seem to fit the bill.

Having acknowledged the merits of the 3-year-old division, however, however, it may be pertinent to note that in 18 runnings of the Classic, older horses, with more experience and generally superior physical development, hold an edge in this Breeders' Cup competition, 11 victories to seven.

Among the older Classic candidates with the credentials to hold his own against opponents of any age is Evening Attire. A 4-year-old gelding by Classic winner Black Tie Affair, Evening Attire is on hand from New York, where he starred in last month's Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, one of the most prestigious stakes run in this country. Evening Attire, coming from well off the pace with his customary timeliness, was a decisive winner by almost three lengths.

"There are a lot of good qualities to this fellow," trainer Pat Kelly said the other day. "He is very sharp and alert and gives many indications of intelligence. He has a kind disposition and doesn't waste energy by fighting the people around him. He seems to have a lot of class and is a natural stayer who is made to order for a mile and a quarter race around two two turns."

Evening Affair is a family project. He is owned and was bred by the retired Hall of Fame horseman Thomas J. Kelly, in partnership with an old friend, Massachusetts lobbyist Joseph Grant.

Kelly purchased the dam, Concolor, from the John Thouron dispersal for $65,000 and has never regretted the decision. She has had some 10 foals, including some nice horses, but Evening Attire a winner of $1,208,810, is the best she has had.

Originally trained by Tim Kelly, Pat's brother, he was a promising 2-year-old who chipped a knee in Saratoga's Hopeful Stakes. The chip was removed and he was gelded. When Tim Kelly stopped training in favor of a career as an official, Evening Affair went to Pat Kelly.

A 1970 graduate of the University of Miami, where he majored in business administration, Pat Kelly assisted his father for eight years, then took out a license in 1978. New Yorkers have come to appreciate his way with a horse through a series of notable triumphs. He achieved a high point 10 years ago when he saddled Sultry Song to win the Woodward Stakes and Solar Splendor to win the Man o' War on the same afternoon.

Evening Attire responded immediately to Kelly's approach and won three stakes in the fall of his 3-year-old campaign, including the Discovery, Queens County, and Aqueduct handicaps. Kelly says he seems to bloom in crisp weather and does well on off tracks. He is working on a similar series of successes now, having captured the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap before before the win in the Gold Cup.

"He carried 115 pounds in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup," Kelly pointed out, "and carried 126 to win the Gold Cup. He handled the extra weight without any fuss. He takes everything in stride and we are hopeful he can do the same with the Classic."