04/25/2002 11:00PM

0 for 11 only part of the story

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NEW YORK - Ogden Phipps died last Monday at 93, just a dozen days before a Kentucky Derby in which 20 percent of the field descends from his three greatest racehorses - Buckpasser, Easy Goer, and Personal Ensign.

If he were around to root, he would of course be pulling for Saarland, and not just because he owned 5 percent of the colt. Saarland's principal owner is Phipps's daughter, Cynthia, who got him by breeding Unbridled to her Alabama winner Versailles Treaty, a grand-daughter of Buckpasser.

The three other Derby starters with ties to Phipps's big three are Easy Grades, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, who is out of the Easy Goer mare Itseasy; and two colts sired by Our Emblem, a son of Mr. Prospector and Personal Ensign: War Emblem, the Illinois Derby winner, and Private Emblem, the Arkansas Derby winner.

The Derby was one of the few races that eluded Phipps, and you could argue that luck alone kept three from his grasp. Bold Lad was off slowly in 1965 and rallied furiously to miss catching Lucky Debonair by a neck. The outcome of a fateful 1969 coin flip with Meadow Stable won Phipps a filly named The Bride rather than the colt who became Secretariat. Finally, the misfortune of having Sunday Silence come along in the same year as Easy Goer cost him a Derby, a Preakness, and a Breeders' Cup Classic in 1989.

The last three generations of Phippses are a combined 0 for 11 with their own Derby starters. Ogden Phipps's mother, Gladys Phipps, was off the board with all seven of her Wheatley Stables starters from Distraction in 1928 through Successor in 1967. Phipps ran second with Dapper Dan and Easy Goer, and seventh with Seeking the Gold in 1988 in his only other Derby try. His son, Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, ran third with Awe Inspiring behind Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in 1989.

Yet despite an 0-for-7 record, Wheatley had a profound effect on the Derby, through the blood of its colt who ran fourth in 1957: Bold Ruler, whose bloodlines dominated the race in the next quarter-century. Bold Ruler was the sire of Secretariat; the grandsire of Dust Commander, Cannonade, Foolish Pleasure, Bold Forbes, and Spectacular Bid; the great-grandsire of Seattle Slew, and the great-great-grandsire of Swale.

Phipps's Buckpasser has also had a strong Derby influence, as the grandsire of Spend a Buck and Silver Charm, and a great-grandsire of Lil E. Tee and Monarchos.

Speaking of grandsires, the Phipps influence on the equine breed will continue in American racing because the legacy is strong on the human side. One of the most baffling and disheartening developments of the last generation has been the disappearance of so many of other great family stables of the 20th century, including Greentree and Rokeby, because of a lack of interest by the current generation. (Which part of owning great racehorses don't they like?)

By contrast, Phipps's grandchildren are regular and enthusiastic racegoers. As Dinny Phipps said last week, he and his father gave trainer Shug McGaughey high marks not only for his horsemanship but also for getting the next generation of Phippses hooked on the sport. Two weeks ago, Ogden Phipps II crowded into Aqueduct's Turf and Field Club to watch the Blue Grass simulcast and check out the prospective competition for Aunt Cynthia's Saarland next Saturday.

Saarland, incidentally, has one of the few names among this year's Derby class that reflects his lineage. Cynthia Phipps named his dam Versailles Treaty because the filly was a daughter of Danzig, and Article 102 of the 1919 Versailles Treaty at the conclusion of World War I deemed the port town of Danzig a free city. The Versailles Treaty also decreed that 991 square miles of southwest Germany known as the Saarland be administered by the French under the supervision of the League of Nations. Saarland, home to just over one million people today, became a state of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1957.

So Danzig sired Versailles Treaty, who foaled Saarland. Other names in this year's field are catchier but defy origin. Buddha and Johannesburg are good handles, but how does Hennessy plus Myth equal Johannesburg, or Unbridled's Song plus Cahooters equal Buddha? There's something to be said for continuity, as generations of Phippses have demonstrated.