The Outside Rail

Chris Andrews never saw Evening Attire race, never knew the fit, determined, hard-trying racehorse. But she knew all about Evening Attire.

“The stall he is . . . was . . . in is the key stall right next to my office and he talked to me every morning and every night,” said Andrews, executive director of Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue where Evening Attire lived out his retirement for the last 10 years. Andrews talked back because, well of course she did. Horses like Evening Attire make you talk to them. On the racetrack, he won nine graded stakes, earned just shy of $3 million and won legions of fans while making 69 starts over nine seasons. He died Sunday of colic, leaving a big hole at Akindale.

“The energy isn’t the same in the entire barn,” said Andrews, who oversees the Pawling, N.Y. farm. “The team is heartbroken. It was so fast, so unexpected.”

Akindale was the home of noted Thoroughbred owner/breeder John Hettinger, who took over the farm from his father in 1973 and built it into a sprawling property with a training track, barns, turnout paddocks and more. Hettinger’s racehorses included the likes of Chase The Dream, Jazzing Around, Lady D’Accord, Prospector’s Flag and Warfie. The farm stood stallions D’Accord, Personal Flag and Sir Wimbourne among others.

Always an advocate for horses, Hettinger frequently spoke out against slaughter and in 2001 founded Blue Horse Charities, one of the first welfare organizations for Thoroughbreds whose racing careers had ended. Hettinger was instrumental in the history of Fasig-Tipton auction company, helping revive the financial picture and ultimately holding more than half the voting control. In 2001, he received a special Eclipse Award for his service to Thoroughbreds. When Hettinger sold a racehorse, the bill of sale mentioned that he would take the horse back – no questions asked – if the horse was no longer wanted. The horses he sold, and the horses he kept were retired to Akindale’s fields. Before he died in 2008, Hettinger set aside the farm to create the Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue and in the first two years Akindale saved more than 100 horses directly from auction houses known as the final stop before a slaughterhouse in Mexico or Canada. Akindale continued as a breeding/racing entity, with Kate Feron at the helm, through 2016 but now the farm exists solely for former racehorses.

Akindale recently announced an expansion and move to the farm’s training barn which will be renamed the A. John Hettinger Rehabilitation Center. Akindale’s new Reinventing Racehorses program will operate out of the main barn, a new outdoor arena and a smaller adoption barn. A campaign to build an indoor arena, in hopes of creating a therapeutic riding program, is also underway. Some 130 horses live in retirement at Akindale, but the mission will now include retraining and adoption and, ultimately, helping more horses.

With his record, notoriety and connections, Evening Attire was never in danger of going to a slaughterhouse. But the specter is never far away. In 2010, Evening Attire’s half-brother Tacticianor was rescued from an auction house in Ohio for $75. He’d changed hands several times since he last raced for co-owner/breeder Joe Grant, who campaigned Evening Attire with T.J. Kelly, was injured and severely underweight. Grant helped ensure the horse’s recovery and in 2011 Tacticianor joined his brother at Akindale.

Call him the comic to Evening Attire’s role as straight man.

“Tac is the dirty biter,” Andrews said with a laugh. “Evening Attire was just a gentleman, he really was. He was exactly the horse that everyone always remembered and said he was.”

Evening Attire and Tacticianor occupied neighboring stalls and were frequently turned out together. They weren’t up for adoption or tabbed for second careers. They were simply horses, living at Akindale – one famous and lucky, one just lucky. Hettinger would have loved it. Other horses on the “famous” residents list of Akindale’s website are Empire Classic winner Stud Muffin, multiple graded stakes winner Hotstufanthensome and 21-time winner Callmetony.

The farm doesn’t simply retire horses, however, as ex-racehorses are rehabilitated, retrained and adopted for careers as show horses, eventers and riding horses. Evening Attire was always willing to lend a hoof in the efforts. He was a star on farm tours and something of a role model for new arrivals.

“The barn he lived in is the center of our rehabilitation program,” said Andrews. “It’s where all the new horses come in and you felt like they all watched him with awe. It’s like all of them looked at him like, ‘That’s who we want to be when we grow up.’ Granted, they were also watching him get all the cookies and all the attention and all the treats so . . .”

Maybe that had something to do with it, but nobody was telling Evening Attire. He was a key part of Akindale, and will be forever missed. Andrews said plans were recently completed for a 21st birthday party (he was born Feb. 14, 1998) for the horse, who was going to be feted with a champagne toast now that he was “legal.” Instead, Akindale will hold a memorial service and try – hard – to remember the good times with a good horse.

“We had just done a fantastic photo shoot with him in the fall and were going to auction off the photos to help with all the exciting things that are happening,” said Andrews. “He was going to be a big part of it, so it’s bittersweet. But he lived the life of kings. He wanted for nothing. We’re going to miss him.”

For more about Evening Attire, and a slide show from Tod Marks, see thisishorseracing.com article from Jan. 23.

For more about Akindale, see the Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue website.