04/09/2010 12:00AM

Evening Jewel gives owner a lift


ARCADIA, Calif. - The filly stretched and strained and a lead that was a length in early stretch was down to a neck at the finish of the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland last weekend.

The wire arrived just in time for Evening Jewel, who had lost the lead in major stakes earlier this year but not on the afternoon of April 3. The prestigious victory was a milestone win for the filly, and one owners Tom and Marilyn Braly of Indian Wells, Calif., cherished more than ever.

"It's been a fairly tale," Tom Braly said Thursday.

The filly, bought privately in spring 2009 and a stakes winner against California-breds later that year, provided the Bralys with a sporting distraction at a welcome time. Tom Braly has been fighting cancer in recent years and has undergone treatment in recent months.

"I have cancer, and my health hasn't been very good," he said. "The horse has been the greatest therapy."

The thrill of the Ashland win was still with Braly almost a week after the race. The Ashland was Evening Jewel's third consecutive appearance in a graded stakes. After finishing second in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita in January, Evening Jewel suffered a heartbreaking loss by a nose to division leader Blind Luck in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes in February.

In the Ashland Stakes over 1 1/16 miles, Evening Jewel was sent off at 5-1. Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Evening Jewel never led by more than a length and was in front by that margin at the eighth pole. In the final furlong, the lead dwindled to a neck, but Evening Jewel held off It's Tea Time. She Be Wild, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2009, finished third.

"She's been unbelievable," Braly said. "She's done everything right; you can't fault the horse."

Braly admired Evening Jewel's poise at Keeneland, particularly in the track's paddock, which is often full of racegoers.

"That saddling area is very unique," he said. "Everybody and their brother is out there. She handled it very well."

Braly, 72, the owner of an insurance company, and his wife have been involved in racing for 30 years, and for the last six years with Jim Cassidy, who trains Evening Jewel. The two men have yet to decide on Evening Jewel's next start, though the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on April 30 is a main topic of discussion.

Another option is to stay in Southern California for the $150,000 Melair Stakes for statebred 3-year-old fillies at Hollywood Park on April 24 and then shift Evening Jewel to turf. There is the factor of travel for Tom Braly himself.

"The trip [to Kentucky] was pretty hard on me personally, so we need to decide in the next week or two," Braly said.

The Bralys bought Evening Jewel on the advice of handicapper and clocker Gary Young, who spotted her in Florida. Evening Jewel, by Northern Afleet, was bred by Betty and Larry Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm in California and sold for $8,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale. She was entered in a Florida 2-year-olds in-training sale last year when the Bralys reached a private deal.

Evening Jewel is out of Jewel of the Night, whose dam, Jeweled Lady, produced Saucey Evening, the champion California-bred 2-year-old filly of 2008.

The early impressions of Evening Jewel were favorable.

"In August, we knew we had something the way she was going," Braly said.

About that time, she was a frequent subject on a blog Braly published, called Tom's Tidbits. The blog was a Christmas gift from a daughter a few years ago and focused on the couple's racehorses, their travels, and, poignantly, Tom's health.

Last fall, Evening Jewel's maiden win on Breeders' Cup weekend was a blog subject, with Braly unable to hide his enthusiasm. Last December, Evening Jewel won her first stakes in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes at Santa Anita.

"She's my home run," Braly said. "Which I've always wanted to have."