04/19/2004 11:00PM

'Evening' back for redemption

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The last time he brought Evening Attire to Kentucky, trainer Pat Kelly watched in glee, then dismay, as Evening Attire finished first in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap last November, only to be disqualified for bumping and hindering the eventual winner, Quest, down the Churchill Downs stretch.

Thursday, Kelly and Evening Attire return to Kentucky in search of redemption, but it will be in a different venue and for a purse that does not approach what was won momentarily, then lost, in the $582,000 Clark. With Cornelio Velasquez named to ride, Evening Attire is the probable favorite among a field of seven older horses entered in the Ben Ali Stakes, a Grade 3 race with a $150,000 purse.

The 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali also drew several other horses with star quality, most notably Sarava, the 2002 Belmont Stakes winner, and Midway Road, the 2003 Preakness runner-up. Also entered are Sir Cherokee, the 2003 Arkansas Derby winner, and Congrats, a Shug McGaughey-trained colt who looked terrific in winning an allowance route on opening weekend at the Keeneland meet.

American Style and Jersey Giant complete the field.

Evening Attire most recently finished a game second behind Funny Cide in the Grade 3 Excelsior Handicap April 3 at Aqueduct. After trailing early, Evening Attire launched his customary bid into contention, only to fall a half-length short of victory.

A $2 million earner, Evening Attire is owned in partnership by Mary Grant and T.J. Kelly, Pat Kelly's father.

Trainer Bob Baffert said Sarava is "finally where I want him" after incurring a number of ailments and minor injuries following his Belmont win. Sarava has since run three times in allowance company and not finished better than fifth.

"He's a tough little horse," said Baffert. "He's had a lot of little things he's had to overcome. He probably wants a little more ground than this, but he should be competitive."

Midway Road, trained by Neil Howard, will be making his second start since being sidelined last summer with a small sesamoid fracture in his right hind ankle. A 4-year-old colt, Midway Road finished fourth in his return to action last month in a Fair Grounds allowance.

Sir Cherokee, scratched from the Kentucky Derby last May, takes a slight class drop after being defeated by Peace Rules in his last two starts.