11/25/2002 1:00AM

A friendship you can invest in

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NEW YORK - If you don't like a horse like Evening Attire, then you just don't like horse racing.

Evening Attire, who galloped in Saturday's off-the-turf Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct, is one of a breed that seems to be heading the way of the dodo bird: the high-class gelding.

Back in the day when what happened on the racetrack dictated what happened in the breeding shed, there were more genuinely talented geldings competing at the top levels of the game. But, with horses more valuable in the breeding shed than on the track, which has been the case for some time now, it no longer makes economic sense to "cut" male horses. Even though many male horses are better runners after being gelded, there aren't nearly as many geldings as there used to be in the allowance ranks. It's at that level where gelding can be all that it takes to make a horse teetering on the edge of being good into a stakes runner.

The reason gelding has become uncommon is because if an intact male wins just one meaningful race, he is virtually guaranteed a stud career that can be more lucrative than what he would earn on the track, even as a gelding with a lengthy career. In this sense, Evening Attire, whose class was established with his emphatic victory in the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup, is a throwback.

Evening Attire races for genuinely nice people who are not afraid to run him. In a year when it was actually hip to bring horses into a race like the Breeders' Cup Classic off layoffs measured in months, trainer Pat Kelly ran Evening Attire back only four weeks after the Breeders' Cup Classic. Still, it was a bit of a surprise that the Red Smith was taken off the turf, enabling main-track-only Evening Attire to run. Even with all the rain the New York area has had lately, it was surprising the race was taken off the grass because it was the last turf stakes in New York until next spring.

But if Evening Attire hadn't run in the Red Smith, he would have instead raced this Friday in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. How often does a prominent Breeders' Cup Classic player - Evening Attire was third choice in the betting and finished fourth while being severely compromised by the speed-favoring track - run back so soon after the Classic?

Finally, Evening Attire is a horse you can risk an emotional attachment to, and even the most grizzled horseplayer secretly has his pets. Almost as soon you got to know horses like War Emblem, Came Home, Buddha, Street Cry, Mizzen Mast, Swept Overboard, Rock of Gibraltar, Beat Hollow, Farda Amiga, and Kazzia, you had to say goodbye as they departed into retirement. Being a gelding, Evening Attire will be around a long time, so long as he stays healthy, of course. The same can't be said for many of the other best horses of 2002.

Time to take responsibility

One aspect of the Breeders' Cup pick six scandal that hasn't been discussed openly is who is going to pay when the final bill comes. Make no mistake, there will be a tab to pay. Between securing the services of high-powered consulting and accounting firms, creating and developing new procedures and computer software to close all the loopholes in betting systems, and the marketing blitz that is sure to follow once all this is completed, the tab will be an enormous one.

Every conscientious bettor in America knows who should pay the bill: The money should come from the private coffers of betting companies like Autotote, from racetracks, and from offtrack wagering associations - the entities that were liable in the first place for providing the basic protections that were not provided. These repairs are really capital improvements, although capital improvements that should have been made years ago. And, if any one of these entities balks at paying their fair share from their private funds, the betting public should drive them out of business by denying them business.

That's how it should go, but among the skeptical horseplayer majority there is a feeling that this will end up going in an entirely different direction. The feeling is the cost of all of this, like everything else in horse racing, will be passed on to the bettors in the form of yet another hike in the parimutuel takeout.

Sorry, it won't fly this time.

It is demonstrable that the betting public is the victim, and there is a strong sense that the victim has been victimized enough. Any attempt to pass the cost of repairing the Breeders' Cup pick six scandal on to the betting public will result in a public relations problem that has made everything up to this point look like a day at the beach. If the racing powers-that-be worry about how many fans were lost in this scandal, wait until they see how many bettors say bye bye if they are forced into paying for the displeasure of being wronged.