03/02/2007 12:00AM

History Challenge answers


1. Fewer than 700 people were on hand when Aqueduct opened its gates on Sept. 27, 1894. The track was only six furlongs around, with a boardwalk for the apron instead of a lawn. Nonetheless, the popularity of the track grew by leaps and bounds in the first few years because of its appeal to the common man and its easy-to-reach location in Queens.

One of the track's most ardent supporters in the first years was a local tugboat skipper, Capt. William Carter. In 1895, Carter donated $500 to the Queens County Jockey Club, operators of Aqueduct, for a major stakes race. The track put up another $100 and the $600-added Carter Handicap was born.

Initially a 1 1/4-mile event, the race was changed to a sprint in 1898. It has been run at seven furlongs since 1903. The Carter Handicap is today one of only 10 Grade 1 sprints run in America for 3-year-olds and up.

2. Frank J. De Francis brought a high level of intensity to everything that he did as chief operator of Laurel and Pimlico in the 1980's.

The last Preakness card run under his direction reached new heights, with a record attendance of 98,896 and a record handle of $7.8 million. Following his death at age 62 on Aug.o19, 1989, De Francis was succeeded by his son, Joseph, an attorney.

On Aug. 18, 1990, one day shy of the first anniversary of his death, the inaugural $350,000-guaranteed Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash was contested at Pimlico. The six-furlong event attracted some of the best older sprinters in the country. A 4-year-old filly, Safely Kept, who finished fourth in the first De Francis, went on to capture the seventh running of the Breeders' Cup Sprint 10 weeks later.

The Grade 1 De Francis Memorial now carries a purse of $300,000 and is run at Laurel in November.

3. The four Horses of the Year also named champion sprinter the same season were:

* Tom Fool in 1953. The Grade 2 Tom Fool Stakes is run at Belmont.

* Dr. Fager in 1968. The ungraded Dr. Fager Stakes is run at Calder Race Course.

* Ack Ack in 1971. The Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap is run at Hollywood Park.

* Forego in 1974. The Grade 1 Forego Handicap is run at Saratoga.

Coaltown was voted champion sprinter in 1948 and Horse of the Year (in two of the three national polls) in 1949. Bold Ruler was voted Horse of the Year in 1957 and champion sprinter in 1958.

4. The $500,000 Smile Sprint Handicap to be run July 7 at Calder Race Course is one the richest sprint stakes for older horses in America. Only the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the new Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint offer larger purses.

The Miami Beach Handicap was renamed in 1999 to honor Smile, the Florida-bred who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita Park in 1986 en route to being named champion sprinter. Frances A. Genter owned and bred the horse.

In addition to Smile and Unbridled, Genter also owned My Dear Girl, the 2-year-old filly champion of 1959.

5. Crooner Bing Crosby and a number of his Hollywood buddies, including Pat O'Brien, Joe E. Brown, and Oliver Hardy, joined to build Del Mar in 1937. But when the project ran short of funds, it was Crosby and O'Brien who took out loans against their life insurance to complete it.

The Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap at six furlongs has been a fixture at Del Mar since 1946.

In 1986, when the track expanded its stakes offerings, the Pat O'Brien Handicap was added. The seven-furlong race is now a Grade 2.

- Ron Hale