07/14/2006 12:00AM

A craze developed a classic event

Adam Coglianese / NYRA
Smuggler en route to winning last year's Coaching Club Oaks, which will be run for the 89th time on Saturday.

In January 1917, the Westchester Racing Association announced the addition of the Coaching Club Handicap for 3-year-old fillies to its Belmont Park stakes lineup. The announcement stated that the race was the outcome of a "pleasant spring afternoon" spent the year before at Belmont Park by the prestigious Coaching Club.

Coaching was a national craze in England and the United States in the late 19th century, with thousands turning out in cities to watch the rich and famous drive their lavish four-in-hand coaches in parades and long-distance events. August Belmont and his sons August Jr. and Perry were elected members of the Coaching Club in New York in 1876.

The Coaching Club Handicap became the Coaching Club American Oaks in 1919, and the race soon became a premier event for fillies. In 1969, Humphrey Finney, chairman of Fasig-Tipton Sales Co., said that in his opinion the Triple Crown series and the CCA Oaks were the only "classics" in America.

With the CCA Oaks set to be run Saturday at Belmont Park for the 89th time, test your knowledge of winners of this historic event.

1. From 1898 to 1927, John E. Madden bred 182 stakes winners at his Hamburg Place in Lexington, Ky. He led the nation in wins by breeders from 1917 to 1927 and in money won in all but three of those years.

Included among Hamburg-breds were an incredible eight winners of more than $100,000 in their careers, including one female star. Her lifetime earnings of $174,745 were at one time the most of any horse of her sex in racing history. Name this Hall of Famer.

2. Many horsemen were surprised when Harry Payne Whitney bred Dis Donc to the broodmare Flyatit in 1928. Both horses were undistinguished on the racetrack. But Whitney knew both had marvelous pedigrees.

The result of the mating was an awkward, temperamental, and unpromising filly who her trainer said did not have the easy or forceful walk of a good racehorse. She might not have walked very well, but on the racetrack she was a champion two years in a row and is today enshrined in racing's Hall of Fame. Name her.

3. There is no telling how good this 2-year-old filly champion of 1940 might have been had she not suffered from a growing case of claustrophobia. By age 3, she often freaked in the starting gate, once losing two teeth and another time nearly losing an eye.

After winning 8 of 11 starts at age 2, she was able to start only six times at age 3. She did manage to win twice - an overnight handicap and the CCA Oaks, where she outlasted Dark Discovery to win by a diminishing neck. By summer of her 3-year-old season, her hysteria was resulting in injuries and illnesses that severely limited her successes. Name this filly.

4. In the years after his retirement from the saddle, legendary jockey Eddie Arcaro often had difficulty naming the best horse he ever rode. Sometimes he would say Citation. At other times, Kelso.

But as to the best female, Arcaro told Joe Hirsch of Daily Racing Form that this filly was by far the best he ever rode.

"She was so sore before the Beldame I must have warmed her up for a half-hour," Arcaro said. "The vets wanted to scratch her, but I persuaded them to let her run, and she turned in an outstanding performance under 126 pounds." Name the filly.

5. Had this 3-year-old filly stopped racing after her marvelous win in the Beldame Handicap on Sept. 22, 1956, against a crack field of older females, she would have been the easy choice for division champion. She raced two more times, however, finishing out of the money, and lost the championship vote to Doubledogdare.

While never a champion herself, this filly went on to foal one of the great female champions of the 20th century. Name her and her Hall of Fame offspring.

History Challenge Answers

1. Like most female stars of her era, Princess Doreen faced off against and often beat some of the best males. A foal of 1921, she ran 94 times - winning 34 races - in a career than spanned five seasons.

Princess Doreen first gained headlines with a victory in the Kentucky Oaks, on the disqualification of Glide, who finished first. Two weeks later, she was in New York where she shouldered high weight of 121 pounds in the eighth running of the Coaching Club American Oaks. She won in a gallop.

So highly was she thought of that Princess Doreen was sent off the second betting choice at Latonia Race Course against males in the third and final of the special international races of 1924. She finished off the board as Sarazen beat favored Epinard to the wire in the 1 1/4-mile test. An estimated crowd of 60,000 attended the event.

2. Top Flight demonstrated the superior genetic material that she received from her sire and dam. At age 2 in 1931, she was undefeated in seven starts. Her wins included three against colts in the Saratoga Special, Futurity at Belmont, and the Pimlico Futurity.

In the Futurity at Belmont, she defeated Burgoo King (who went on to win the 1932 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes) and Faireno (who went on to win the Belmont Stakes).

Top Flight herself was the winter book favorite for the 1932 Derby, but after being soundly defeated in the Wood Memorial, she skipped the Louisville classic. Her victories at age 3 included the Acorn Stakes, CCA Oaks, Arlington Oaks, Alabama Stakes, and Ladies Handicap.

She is honored each fall with the Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct.

3. Level Best was the finest daughter of the ill-fated champion Equipoise. Bred by Samuel D. Riddle, who owned Man o' War, Level Best was owned by Crispin Oglebay.

She was awesome at age 2, winning eight starts. Her three losses were all attributed to her extreme fractiousness in the starting gate.

Despite the best efforts of her owner and top veterinarians, Level Best's psychological problems continued to get worse as she got older.

Her owner was convinced that the effort to get the filly prepared to win the CCA Oaks took so much out of her that she was never the same again.

4. When Real Delight was foaled at Calumet Farm on March 7, 1949, farm manager Paul Ebelhardt noted in the log book, "Could be another Twilight Tear," alluding to the 1944 Horse of the Year from the same stable. He wasn't far from wrong.

Real Delight did not start at age 2 because of an injury, but won 11 of her 12 starts (and all nine of her stakes engagements) at age 3.

Few fillies have dominated their opposition as Real Delight did in 1952. Her victories included the Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, CCA Oaks, Ashland Stakes, and Beldame Handicap. She was enshrined in racing's Hall of Fame in 1987.

5. Levee, a daughter of Hill Prince, was bred by the Claiborne Farm of Arthur B. Hancock Jr. Early in her 2-year-old season, she was sold to Mrs. Vernon G. Cardy.

Levee did not win a stakes until her 16th and last start at age 2, when she won the Selima Stakes at Laurel by four lengths at 47-1.

Her first major win at age 3 came in the CCA Oaks against a stellar field that included Princess Turia, Lady Swords, and Doubledogdare. She later won the Monmouth Oaks before returning to Belmont to meet the best older mares in the country in the rich Beldame Handicap. Sent off at nearly 9-1, she won by a half-length.

As a broodmare, Levee dropped four stakes winners, including champion Shuvee, who in addition to winning her own CCA Oaks in 1969, beat males in two consecutive runnings of the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup.