05/01/2003 11:00PM

Affirmed, Little Current remembered


LEXINGTON, Ky. - With the Triple Crown campaign now under way, there's no better time to honor racing's classic heroes. Two of those horses, 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed and 1974 Preakness and Belmont winner Little Current, got important posthumous tributes on Kentucky farms this week.

Darley at Jonabell, formerly Jonabell Farm and Affirmed's home from 1990 until his death in 2001 at age 26, has honored the champion with a statue by renowned sculptor Gwen Reardon. Reardon is best known in the bluegrass for her set of racehorse and mare-and-foal sculptures in downtown Lexington's Thoroughbred Park.

The Affirmed statue is half life-size and was commissioned by Louis and Patrice Wolfson's Harbor View Farm in honor of the 25th anniversary of Affirmed's Triple Crown. The Wolfsons bred and raced Affirmed, whose battles with Alydar during the 1978 Triple Crown made him one of the era's most popular racehorses. He remains the last Triple Crown winner.

The statue and Affirmed's gravesite will form the centerpiece of the Lexington farm's new stallion complex. Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Darley operation purchased Jonabell in August of 2001 and has been extensively renovating its facilities since then. The Affirmed statue will remain in storage until the stallion complex is completed, according to a release issued by the farm.

In nearby Versailles, Ky., dual classic winner Little Current finally has a resting place, complete with a headstone. The champion 3-year-old of 1974 died early this year in Monroe, Wash., where he had resided since 1995. But under an earlier agreement with Buck Pond Farm in Versailles, Ky., where Little Current stood early in his stud career, the stallion's Washington owners shipped his remains via Federal Express to Buck Pond's owner, Doug Arnold. Arnold buried the stallion, but it wasn't until this week that the horse received a proper memorial stone. Buck Pond hosted a dedication ceremony for the memorial on April 28.

Buck Pond's headstone is not the only Little Current memorial going up this year. The town of Little Current, Ontario, will erect a statue to the horse this summer. Darby Dan Farm owner John Galbreath, who bred and campaigned Little Current, named the champion runner after the tiny Canadian fishing port (population 1,200) that sits on the northeastern shore of Manitoulin Island. Galbreath had a summer house in Little Current.

Darby Dan Farm sent a representative to the dedication ceremony and also presented a win photo from Little Current's Preakness victory to Buck Pond in honor of the horse.

His biggest fan

Little Current owes a lot to Kevin Grace, a Maryland Racing Comm-ission employee who has spent the last four years campaigning to get Little Current into racing's Hall of Fame. Grace was among a group of 10 to 15 people who attended the Little Current headstone dedication on Monday, and he piled the memorial with various Little Current-related items he has collected since becoming the horse's biggest fan in 1997, when Mark and Ann Hansen, farm owners in Washingon, introduced him to Little Current in person.

Grace's offerings at the dedication ceremony included magazine articles, a Little Current keychain, and a proclamation he recently obtained from Kentucky Governor Paul Patton that pays tribute to Little Current as "a great champion of racing history."

Grace was a driving force behind the memorial for Little Current.

"I didn't want his death to just be a story in the newspaper," he said. "This horse was a champion, and, bottom line, he should be in the Hall of Fame."

Grace can reel off yards of facts in support of Little Current's Hall of Fame credentials. Although Little Current is not yet in the Hall of Fame, Grace says his reward has come in making more people aware of the Sea-Bird horse's accomplishments. He also enjoys meeting other Little Current fans, like the couple at the dedication ceremony who owned some horses by the stallion.

"I'm glad something was done to memorialize him," Grace said of the monument at Buck Pond. "It's a little bit of closure for me."