06/28/2004 11:00PM

Forego and Suburban forever

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ELMONT, N.Y. - In many ways the Suburban Handicap, which will be run Saturday at Belmont Park for the 118th time, was a race that defined the great Forego's career.

The legendary gelding, who died on Aug. 27, 1997, raced in the Grade 1 Suburban five consecutive years, more than in any other race in his 57 starts. He won the Suburban in 1975, finished second in 1976 and 1977 and third in 1974. He ended his career at the age of 7 in the 1978 Suburban by beating only one horse, in one of his few off-the-board performances.

Cumbersome weight assignments played a role in Forego's losses in the Suburban, which was run at distances ranging from 1 3/16 to 1 1/2 miles in the years he competed.

Forego lugged high weight in each of his Suburban appearances. An excellent example was the 1977 Suburban, when he lost by a neck while carrying 138 pounds - an unheard of assignment today. The winner, Quiet Little Table, carried a mere 114 pounds. Forego, burdened with 134 pounds in the 1975 Suburban, was up in the nick of time to win at 1 1/2 miles by a head from Arbees Boy, who carried 16 fewer pounds.

Martha Farish Gerry, who owned and bred Forego under the name of Lazy F Ranch, said weight and weather were always a concern for the gelding, especially because he was troubled by sore ankles throughout his career.

In a recent interview, Gerry, 85, said Forego was "an enormous pleasure and a worry. He was never a completely sound horse, so we worried about the weather and the weight. In his last start, the unsoundness caught up with him. At the head of the stretch, I sensed it was over. Two days later, I got a call from [trainer] Frank Whiteley to come to the barn and look at new [X-rays] that were taken. Frank said he had to do what he had been putting off and not wanting to see. The pictures were pretty terrible; we needed then to retire him."

For his first 40 races, Forego was trained by Sherrill Ward. When Ward was forced to retire because of severe arthritis at the end of Forego's 1975 campaign, Whiteley became the gelding's trainer. Whiteley trained Forego through 17 races, including a memorable win over a soupy track in the 1976 Marlboro Cup at Belmont. Packing 137 pounds, Forego looked like a beaten horse at the top of stretch, but he made a wide and late move under Bill Shoemaker to beat Honest Pleasure a head.

Gerry said Forego's Marlboro win is her favorite.

"At the head of the stretch, he looked totally defeated," Gerry said. "[Shoemaker] told me that all of the sudden, he started to run. He came so wide, I wouldn't move from my seat because I didn't know if he had won. That's the way it was with him. You had your heart in your throat the whole time, but he usually came through."

When he retired, Forego had won three Horse of the Year titles and five other championships, including top sprinter of 1974 for his wins in the Carter and Vosburgh, seven-furlong races. A classic example of Forego's versatility was his ability during a three-week span to win the Vosburgh and the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. At the time of his retirement, Forego had career earnings of $1,938,957, second only to Kelso's $1,977,896.

Gerry's father, William S. Farish, started Lazy F Ranch. When Farish died in 1942, he left behind five yearlings, and Gerry, who was 24, took over the management of the stable.

Gerry's horses continue to carry the yellow-and-black silks of Lazy F Ranch. She has several horses based in New York, some of whom she bred, in training with Angel Penna Jr. and John Kimmel. Gerry owns several broodmares and keeps the majority of them at Lane's End Farm in Kentucky, which is owned by her nephew, William S. Farish III.

Gerry purchased Lady Golconda, the dam of Forego and a daughter of 1954 Preakness winner Hasty Road, after her racing career ended. Forego is a son of Forli, who was a racing sensation in Argentina and was bought to stand stud in this country by the late Bull Hancock, the patriarch of Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.

"[Lady Golconda] never had anything as good after Forego," Gerry said. "He must have been a fluke - a good fluke."

Forego, who stood an imposing 17-hands-plus tall and tipped the scale at 1,225 pounds at one point in his career, was a rough horse to be around as a yearling and was gelded before he came to the track. Gerry said Forego was a perfect gentleman once a rider was on his back, but in the stall, he tolerated little.

Gerry said above all, Forego was a sensible horse and knew how to take care of himself. She recalled an incident when Whiteley trained Forego and the gelding was scheduled to breeze.

"Frank and I were in the grandstand at Belmont to watch the breeze," Gerry said. "A young English boy was on him and just as he was about to breeze, Forego pulled up and went to the outside fence. The clockers were yelling, 'Forego broke down.' We ran over and the boy, who was white as a sheet, said the rein broke, and Forego, sensing something wrong, pulled himself up and walked to the rail."

Upon his retirement, Forego spent a few years at the Keeneland barn of Sherrill Ward's brother John and later lived at Ward's nephew John Jr.'s farm. Ultimately, Gerry decided Forego needed the attention of his fans and the gelding was moved to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, where he received huge numbers of visitors until his death nearly seven years ago. Forego is buried at the Horse Park, and his stall, which is now occupied by Cigar, still bears his nameplate.