It didn't take the owners of Evening Attire long to realize their horse was a workaholic.
When Joseph and Mary Grant of Quincy, who along with T.J. Kelly have had the gelding since he was born, attempted to retire the thoroughbred a while back, Evening Attire let them know what he thought of the idea.
"When we say he loves the track, people say, 'What are you, crazy? Horses want to go out and run around the pasture,' " said Joseph. "Not him."
"We tried to retire him," added Mary. "He was like, 'I don't want any more of this. I want to work.' "
The 9-year-old will be one of eight contenders in Saturday's 65th running of the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs. He will be ridden by Jose Espinoza.
It's the third MassCap for Evening Attire, who finished second to Macho Uno in 2002 and fifth behind winner Offlee Wild in 2004. Evening Attire, which drew the seventh post position, was listed at 5-1 in yesterday's morning line, the third choice.
"We always hope for a good pace out front," said Pat Kelly, trainer for Evening Attire. "Any time there's a good pace, that's hopefully a good thing for us. We've tried a couple of times, maybe on the third try here we'll get it right."
Kelly, son of T.J. Kelly, said he has a lot of faith in Evening Attire because of his makeup.
"He loves what he does, he's got great competitive spirit," Pat Kelly said. "Being a gelding, he doesn't have that option to go to a stud career so that kind of hurts a little bit, but without gelding him he probably wouldn't have gotten as good as he got. As long as he's willing and able, we'll keep trying."
The Grants have been involved in horse racing for decades and hope the progress at Suffolk Downs, in no small part because of the addition of Richard Fields to the track's ownership group, will mean a resurgence for racing in the state.
"We used to breed in Massachusetts, we don't any longer," said Joseph Grant. "We just shipped a horse from Kentucky to New York so she'd foal in New York. People miss the fact that there were farms here. We'd like to breed here. It's an industry that people want because it saves farmland. Everyone is complaining about farmland being eaten up by housing developments."
The Grants own several other horses, but they are emotionally attached to Evening Attire. They said it's impossible not to be.
"Everybody in the barn treats him like a little pet," said Joseph. "He begs candy off everyone. We've been offered huge amounts of money for him at different times and we turned it down. He's our horse, we bred him from a baby. What's our chances of breeding another horse like this?"
Evening Attire has raced on both turf and dirt, at distances from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 3/8 miles. He has won nine stakes races, including the 2002 Grade I
Mary Grant said as much as they enjoy the sport, it isn't for the faint of heart. As much as it can be exciting, it can also be stressful.
"It's more like a roller coaster," she said. "You never know when that next big dip is coming. You just hold onto your stomach and just wait. It's like 'Space Mountain.' You're in the dark. [Each horse requires at least] a three-year commitment. They're pregnant for 11 months and [after the foals are born] they don't race until they're 2. But Evening Attire has given us a lot of thrills."
Joseph Grant said they are keeping their fingers crossed for a strong showing Saturday.
"Hopefully we'll get a shot to get on the board," he said. "Hopefully we'll get a piece of it."
After a two-year absence, the Grants said it was a thrill to have the MassCap back at Suffolk.
"It's a tough, competitive field," said Mary. "All the horses who are here deserve to be here. It's nice to have it back. It's a historical race."
No matter how the race goes, the Grants say it will be up to Evening Attire to decide his future.
"They say you only get one," said Mary. "This is it. We're enjoying him. When he wants to retire, he'll let us know."
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at Marrapese@globe.com.