10/10/2003 12:00AM

Creme Fraiche dead at 21


Creme Fraiche, the only gelding to win the Belmont Stakes, was euthanized on Thursday at the Pennsylvania farm where he had lived since retiring in 1989. He was 21.

Creme Fraiche was put down after suffering from an acute case of laminitis that struck the horse on Tuesday, according to Betty Moran, the owner of Creme Fraiche and Brushwood Stable. Creme Fraiche will be buried at the farm next to several mares she owned, Moran said.

"We had a lot of fun with him," Moran said. "And he had a lot of fun. He had three field friends with him here, and when he was laying down on Tuesday, they were all there with him, whinnying to him to get up."

Bred in Kentucky by Pamela Firm and raced by Moran, Creme Fraiche was a son of Rich Cream, out of the Terrible Tiger mare Likely Exchange. He retired in 1989 after struggling to find the winner's circle for two consecutive years, but his career earnings of $4,024,727 was good enough at the time for sixth best on the all-time list, behind Alysheba, John Henry, Sunday Silence, Easy Goer, and Spend a Buck.

While Creme Fraiche's Belmont win in 1985 was notable because of his status as a gelding, the victory also became a historical footnote for an altogether different reason. Woody Stephens, Creme Fraiche's trainer, had already won three Belmonts in a row when he saddled Creme Fraiche for the win, and the next year he won the Belmont again with Danzig Connection.

Stephens's string of five straight Belmont Stakes victories is considered one of racing's untouchable records, on a par with Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in baseball.

For Moran, the Belmont win was her most memorable moment with Creme Fraiche. "I was just getting into racing at that time, and I didn't know what to expect," Moran said. She also praised Stephens for the job he did with the horse.

Creme Fraiche won the Belmont at the expense of Chief's Crown, the 1984 2-year-old champion, and a stablemate, Stephan's Odyssey. Spend a Buck ended up winning the 3-year-old championship that year, eclipsing Creme Fraiche's notable record of four Grade 1 stakes victories as a 3-year-old.

Creme Fraiche won the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice, 1986 and 1987, and four other graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Meadowlands Cup Handicap. But in 1988 and 1989, he won only twice from 17 starts, both times in the ungraded Tropical Park Handicap. He had a career record of 17 wins from 64 starts and 14 stakes wins when Moran made the decision to retire him.

"I didn't want him to go downhill," Moran said. "I wanted to retire him when we all still felt very good about him."