01/21/2006 1:00AM

Happy Hunting keeps improving

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - While Happy Hunting continues to learn his lessons, Evening Attire is starting to forget his.

Making his stakes debut, Happy Hunting came back after being passed by Mr. Whitestone in midstretch to record a one-length victory in Saturday's Grade 3, $110,000 before a crowd of 4,038. After breaking slowly for the second consecutive race, the 8-year-old gelding Evening Attire rallied for second by a head over Mr. Whitestone.

It was the fourth consecutive victory for Happy Hunting, a 5-year-old son of Seeking the Gold who was making just his ninth career start. Happy Hunting is owned and bred by the Phipps Stable and trained by Shug McGaughey.

Breaking from the rail under Norberto Arroyo Jr., Happy Hunting dueled inside of Mr. Whitestone through an opening quarter run in 23.33 seconds. Arroyo then let Mr. Whitestone go and settled Happy Hunting into second. Happy Hunting stalked Mr. Whitestone before taking the lead at the five-sixteenths pole. Mr. Whitestone, under Chuck Lopez, battled back to gain a short lead inside the eighth pole, before Happy Hunting kicked in and drew clear.

Happy Hunting ($7.10) covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.56 over a fast inner track.

"Last time, he took the lead earlier than what I wanted,'' Arroyo said. "Today I was expecting to make the lead a little bit later, but he kind of got on the muscle at the three-eighths pole. But he settled a lot better today than the last time.''

Evening Attire, who won this race in 2002 and was second in 2004, made a valiant run to be second after spotting the field three lengths when he walked out of the gate in his 47th career start.

"He doesn't have any bad habits in the gate, he just likes the gate too much,'' jockey Jose Santos said. "He ran a good race. He was very game today.''