03/02/2007 1:00AM

Good humor got Toboggan going: History Challenge


Morris Park in New York, which opened its doors in 1889, included a 1 3/8-mile oval with a diagonal six-furlong straight course cutting through it.

The straightaway, named the "Eclipse Course," produced a world record in the first race run over it. When fast times continued, a closer look revealed that the course ran slightly downhill.

Reporters began jokingly referring to the course as a "toboggan slide." Rather than being dismayed by the teasing, track owner John A. Morris embraced it and staged the first Toboggan Slide Handicap the following season. The word "Slide" was dropped in 1896, following the death of Morris, but the race continued, moving to Belmont Park in 1905.

Morris Park was not around long, but its place in history was preserved as it hosted the Preakness Stakes in 1890 and the Belmont Stakes from 1890 to 1904.

The Toboggan Handicap, the nation's second-oldest sprint stakes for older horses (the Phoenix at Keeneland is the oldest), will be run for the 114th time Saturday at Aqueduct.

Test your knowledge of other sprint stakes for older horses.

1. Morris Park, its predecessor, Jerome Park, and its replacement, Belmont Park, had something in common besides being home to the Belmont Stakes. They were three of the most luxurious, state-of-the-art racetracks ever built in America. No money was spared on making them showplaces for racing.

On the other hand, nearby Aqueduct, which opened in 1894, resembled a county fair and was often called a shanty. But it was popular with local racing fans. One of them donated $500 for a stakes race that was named in his honor. Name the race.

2. He and a partner purchased Laurel Race Course from John D. Schapiro in 1984. Two years later, the same team purchased Pimlico Race Course from the Ben and Herman Cohen families.

He died in 1989 after owning the two tracks for only a brief period. But in his position as chief executive officer, he implemented millions of dollars in improvements and, for a time at least, helped restore Maryland racing.

He worked closely with horsemen in Maryland and across the nation to offer races that appealed to them. He revived the historic Pimlico Special, which had been dormant since 1958. A year after his death, a sprint stakes was begun in his honor. Name him.

3. When candidates for Horse of the Year are discussed, the names of sprinters rarely come up. In fact, since the advent of formal voting for divisional championships in 1936, only four horses have been named champion sprinter the same year they were named Horse of the Year.

All four of these champions are honored today with sprint stakes run at four different tracks. Name the horses.

4. Frances A. Genter will always be remembered for the ABC television replay of the expression on her face as trainer Carl Nafzger called the 1990 Kentucky Derby for her. Unbridled won for Genter and went on to garner an Eclipse Award, the third champion she owned.

Four years earlier, a younger Genter (age 88) won an Eclipse Award for her homebred champion sprinter who is honored today with a Grade 2 race. Name the horse.

5. For more than 30 years after opening its doors in 1937, Del Mar was a quaint racetrack in a sleepy beach town, 100 miles from Los Angeles.

By the 1960's, its average daily purses still trailed even the Los Angeles County Fair at Pomona (now Fairplex). The best horses and jockeys regularly left for Chicago and New York after Hollywood Park closed in July.

All that has changed. The expansion of simulcasting, combined with a growing population longing to vacation at the beach, have made Del Mar one of the nation's richest and most important racetracks.

If only Del Mar's two principal founders were alive today to see what their minor-league track has become. They are honored today with major sprint stakes. Name them.