01/20/2006 12:00AM

Fame often fleeting, even for the fleet

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For 70 seasons, the sport of Thoroughbred racing has been conducting formal polling to decide its national champions. Daily Racing Form and Turf & Sport Digest first began separate voting processes to decide the best horses of 1936.

On Monday night, racing's elite will gather at the Eclipse Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills, Calif., to unveil the newest list of champions.

Over the past seven decades, hundreds of horses have been crowned - some in more than one division and some for as many as five seasons. But for the vast majority of them, their moment in the spotlight was brief, and in the years and decades that followed, their names have faded from memory.

How many champions of the past 25 years will be remembered 30 or 40 years from now? Arguably, only two: Cigar and the undefeated filly Personal Ensign, both of whom amassed win streaks that will be referenced for years to come. Test your knowledge of forgotten champions who once commanded headlines and brought thousands of fans to the track just to watch them run.

1. In 1938, the eyes of the racing world were focused on two horses - Seabiscuit and War Admiral - and their on-again, off-again match race. This race finally came off on Nov. 1 and was one of the most-watched sporting events of the century.

In this same year, a diminutive 2-year-old colt had heads spinning when he won all seven of his starts - each one a stakes. Name him.

2. For five straight seasons in the 1940's, this horse faced and beat the best in the game. He won major stakes every season and seemed to dance every dance.

He won the Hopeful Stakes and Breeders' Futurity at age 2, was favored in the Kentucky Derby at age 3, won the Carter, Brooklyn, and Metropolitan handicaps at age 4, was voted champion handicap horse at ages 4 and 5, and won the Metropolitan and Suburban handicaps (the Suburban under 132 pounds) at age 6.

And he accomplished this often wearing a bar shoe to protect a right front foot that was flat rather than concave. Name him.

3. The foal crop of 1954 is considered one of the strongest in American racing history. It included Bold Ruler, Round Table, Federal Hill, Gallant Man, Gen. Duke, and Iron Liege. As 3-year-olds, those six scorched the tracks in early 1957 as they marched toward the Kentucky Derby. But when the votes were counted for the best 2-year-old the previous season, another colt came out on top in all three national polls. Name the juvenile champion of 1956.

4. With three stakes wins to his credit by the fall of 1965, the mighty Kelso appeared to be on his way to an unprecedented sixth consecutive Horse of the Year title. But in winning the Stymie Handicap, he was hit in the eye by a clod. An infection followed and the gelding was out for the year.

Voters were widely split on Horse of the Year. Kelso received a share of the votes, as did Buckpasser and Tom Rolfe. The 2-year-old filly Moccasin was voted Horse of the Year in both the Turf & Sport Digest and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations polls. But the Triangle Publications/Daily Racing Form poll voted this colt Horse of the Year. Name him.

5. There are seasons when the 3-year-olds are so dominant that they completely overshadow the older handicap division Few will forget the epic battles between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in 1989. But who remembers that Blushing John was the top older male that year?

The 3-year-olds Swaps and Nashua became household words in 1955 even to those who followed Thoroughbred racing only casually. But there was a best handicap horse in 1955 and all three polls gave the honor to this colt, who also had been champion 3-year-old male the previous season. Name him.

HISTORY ANSWERS

1. Seabiscuit and War Admiral were the big names in racing in 1938, but a smallish colt named El Chico (Spanish for "the little fellow") was also busy impressing followers of the sport.

A chestnut by John P. Grier, a contemporary of Man o' War, El Chico won all seven of his starts - not one of them close - and was the unanimous choice for juvenile of the year. He made his debut in April at Jamaica in the Youthful Stakes and completed his season in September in the Junior Champion Stakes at Aqueduct. In between, his victories included the Hopeful and Great American stakes and the Saratoga Special.

At the end of 1938, the noted racing journalist John Hervey wrote that El Chico was "the most brilliant 2-year-old seen in the East in years."

At the same time, Hervey suggested that El Chico would have trouble as distances increased. He was right. The following season, the colt was beaten by 15 lengths in the Wood Memorial and 23 lengths in the Kentucky Derby.

2. The Greentree Stable homebred Devil Diver made headlines on the sports pages for five straight years from 1941 to 1945. A son of the highly successful imported stallion St. Germans, Devil Diver's career was often interrupted by the need to rest a flat front foot that took extreme punishment every time he competed. He garnered votes for year-end champion every year he raced and was named the best handicap horse of 1943 and 1944. He could run short and long. At age 5, his wins included the six-furlong Paumonok and Toboggan handicaps and the 1 1/4-mile Whitney and 1 1/2-mile Manhattan handicaps.

In the 1942 Kentucky Derby, Devil Diver was coupled with stablemate Shut Out. Jockey Eddie Arcaro had his choice of the two. He guessed wrong, as Devil Diver never got into the action, while Shut Out wore the roses.

3. In the fall of 1956, Bold Ruler seemed on his way to being voted the champion juvenile of the year. He had won seven races, including the Youthful, Juvenile, and Futurity stakes. Only Federal Hill appeared to stand in his way when the two met on Oct. 27 in the $319,210 Garden State Stakes, at the time the richest race in North American history.

Favored at 2-1, Bold Ruler stumbled badly at the start and then simply refused to extend himself. Federal Hill appeared to have the race won when Calumet Farm's Barbizon came from far back to beat him by a nose in the last jump.

The race was Barbizon's first start in a stakes. He collected $168,430, the largest top prize in history, and the win was enough to give him a plurality of the votes for 2-year-old champion.

4. Harbor View Farm's 4-year-old Roman Brother did not win a stakes race in 1965 until October. But what a month he had. From Oct. 2 to Oct. 30, he won the Woodward Stakes by 10 lengths, the Manhattan Handicap by eight lengths, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup by five.

Those impressive showings were enough to give him the title of Horse of the Year from voters at Daily Racing Form and its sister publication, The Morning Telegraph.

5. High Gun was the property of the King Ranch, which owned many champions, including the 1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault. Winner in 1954 of the Peter Pan, Belmont, and Dwyer stakes, American Derby, Manhattan Handicap, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, High Gun arguably deserved Horse of the Year. But the voters went with the sentimental choice - the hugely popular television icon Native Dancer, who made only three starts.

High Gun came back in 1955 and found himself in the shadows of yet two more icons, Swaps and Nashua. At year's end, he was voted top handicap horse.