06/24/2010 11:00PM

History challenge

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The Suburban Handicap, to be run for the 124th time Saturday at Belmont Park, is not the race it was during its first 100 years. Once almost a requirement for horses heading to championships, the Suburban was dropped to a Grade 2 again last year.

During the 15-year stretch from 1953 to 1968, eight Suburbans were won by horses who went on to be enshrined in racing's Hall of Fame.

When the Suburban was first run in 1884 at the swank Coney Island Jockey Club at Sheepshead Bay, it "at once became the most talked-of race in the country," according to legendary racing official and historian Walter Vosburgh.

Nominations to the early runnings of the Suburban closed in January each year, and the race became extremely popular for what was then called "ante-post betting." Today, we call it future-book betting or future wagering.

In 1886, Sheepshead Bay inaugurated the Futurity Stakes, which was for many of its early years the richest race in the world. The Futurity and Suburban made Sheepshead Bay the most important track in the country.

Test your knowledge of the Suburban

1. The initial editions of the Suburban Handicap brought out horses whose names are not likely to be recognized by even historians of the sport, with the exception of the sensational Hall of Fame mare Firenze, who finished third in 1888.

By the following decade, however, the Suburban was showcasing some of the sport's great stars. Between 1890 and 1899, four winners of the event went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Name them.

2. While it is not unusual for stakes and handicaps for older horses to be won by the same horse in back-to-back years, since its beginning in 1884, the Suburban has been won only twice by the same horse in consecutive years.

Kelso was immortalized by many fetes, but winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup in five straight years has to rank just below his five consecutive Horse of the Year titles.

Kelso won the Suburban twice, but not in consecutive seasons. Forego won the race in 1975, but ran second under staggering weights the following two years. Name the only two back-to-back Suburban winners.

3. Older fillies and mares regularly competed against males in stakes until the second half of the 20th century, and many did so with a fair level of success.

The Suburban was not kind to females, however. Since 1900, the only Hall of Fame filly to capture the Suburban was Beldame in 1905. Horse of the Year at age 3 in 1904, Beldame carried top weight on the scale, 123 pounds, in winning the Suburban.

The most recent filly to win the event came in 1951. She later produced a Suburban winner who was one of the greats of all time. Name her and her famous son.

4. A dozen horses have won the Suburban Handicap carrying 130 pounds or more, the last being Forego (134) in 1975. Forego finished second the following two seasons under 134 and 138, respectively.

Kelso carried 133 pounds in his two Suburban victories and finished second two other times under 132 and 131.

The 138 pounds assigned to Forego was not the highest Suburban impost. In fact, another Hall of Famer won the race under 139 pounds. Name him.

5. For most of its history, the Suburban was run at 1 1/4 miles -- generally considered the American classic distance. (It has been shortened to 1 1/8 miles this year.) Thirty years ago, Spectacular Bid, the sport's last Super Horse, ran 10 furlongs on dirt in 1:57.80 at Santa Anita -- still to this day the North American record.

Two decades ago, this brilliantly fast Irish import won the Suburban Handicap in 1:58.33 -- still to this day the fastest 1 1/4 miles on dirt ever run at a New York track. Name the horse.

Answers

1. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Suburban Handicap was won by Tom Fool, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Sword Dancer, Kelso (twice), Buckpasser, and Dr. Fager -- all Hall of Fame inductees.

In the 1890s, four future Hall of Famers won the race:

* James Ben Ali Haggin's Salvator, a winner of 16 of 19 lifetime starts over three seasons, won the 1890 Suburban under 127 pounds and legendary jockey Isaac Murphy.

* In the 42nd and final start of his career, Henry of Navarre captured the Suburban in 1896, even though he was described as nearly broken down going to post. The chestnut won 29 of his 42 starts.

* Ben Brush, who won the Kentucky Derby the previous year, took down the 1897 Suburban. He retired that year with 24 wins in 40 lifetime starts.

* Known as My Coal Black Lady, Imp (who was a registered black) was one of the most popular racemares of all time. Among Imp's 62 wins in 171 lifetime starts was the 1899 Suburban, beating males as she did so often.

2. The only two horses to capture back-to-back runnings of the historic Suburban Handicap were Crusader in 1926-27 and Devil His Due in 1993-94.

Crusader was from the second crop of Horse of the Century Man o' War. Bred and owned by Samuel D. Riddle, Crusader was sensational at age 3. One week before winning the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, he tuned up by beating older horses in the 1 1/4-mile Suburban Handicap. Later that season, he again beat older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Crusader was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1995.

Devil His Due was a top stakes performer over four seasons in the 1990s, retiring with career earnings just shy of $4 million, but he was never good enough to be voted champion.

Among his most memorable races, aside from the two Suburbans, were victories in the Gotham and Wood Memorial stakes and a win and two seconds in the Pimlico Special.

3. Busanda, a foal of 1947, was a royally bred daughter of Triple Crown winner War Admiral out of the Blue Larkspur mare Businesslike.

Owned by Ogden Phipps and trained by Hall of Famer Jim Fitzsimmons, Busanda won only 10 of 65 starts over four seasons but had moments of brilliance.

The prestigious Alabama Stakes was her lone added-money victory at age 3, but the following season in 1952, she captured the New Castle and Top Flight handicaps before beating males in the marathon Saratoga Cup and Suburban Handicap.

Bred to 1953 Horse of the Year Tom Fool in 1962, Busanda produced Buckpasser, a champion at age 2 and Horse of the Year at age 3. Buckpasser won 25 of 31 lifetime starts, his final victory coming in the 1967 Suburban Handicap, carrying 133 pounds.

4. Because racing was being outlawed in nearly every state in America, Harry Payne Whitney campaigned Whisk Broom II 23 times in England from 1909 through 1912.

But when racing returned to New York, the 6-year-old Whisk Broom II was shipped home for the final three races of his career, where he became the first horse to win the coveted New York Handicap Triple -- the Metropolitan, Brooklyn, and Suburban -- in 1913.

In his final win, the Suburban, the chestnut carried 139 pounds and set a world record (2:00 flat) for 1 1/4 miles. The final time was controversial and widely disputed by many who had timed the race on their stopwatches.

Whisk Broom II was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.

5. A stakes winner in England, In Excess was purchased by Jack Munari and brought to the United States in mid-1990.

Making his first start on dirt at Santa Anita in January 1991, In Excess won the San Fernando Stakes in 1:46.70, a stakes record. In May he won the Metropolitan Handicap and followed that with a win in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park in 1:58.33, the fastest 1 1/4 miles in New York racing history.

In Excess won the Whitney Handicap in August and the Woodward Stakes (1:46.33 for 1 1/8 miles) in September.