02/28/2013 3:49PM

History challenge answers: Sixty years of Gotham greats


See the questions HERE.

1. “The devotion of the largest group of hero-worshipers that ever found a quadrupedlian hero was a major phenomenon of American racing in 1953,” journalist and historian Joe Estes wrote at the end of that year. He was, of course, referring to the sport’s first television star, Native Dancer.

Following a 9-for-9 season at age 2, Native Dancer wintered in California to allow his osselets, or arthritis in the fetlock joints, to heal. He became so restless, however, that one morning, while being schooled in the paddock, he dumped his exercise rider, leaped fences, and thrashed around in the flower beds before being caught.

The magnificent gray did not start in California but returned to New York to make his first start at age 3 in the inaugural Gotham Stakes at Jamaica.

Drawing into the much easier division of the split stakes, Native Dancer toyed with the field at odds of 15 cents on the dollar. A week later, he scored an even easier win at odds of 1-10 in the Wood Memorial. The following Saturday came his now fabled defeat by Dark Star in the Kentucky Derby, his only loss in 22 starts.

2. Fisherman was one of the stars of the powerful Whitney Stable from 1953 through 1956.

Despite winning 11 stakes races in four seasons, the son of Belmont Stakes winner Phalanx was always just a few shades weaker than that season’s divisional champion. At age 2 in 1953, Fisherman accounted for the Champagne, East View, Cowdin, and Great American stakes. At age 3, after comfortably winning the Gotham Stakes, Fisherman stumbled badly at the start of the Wood Memorial Stakes, eventually finishing second to Correlation but ahead of High Gun, who would later be voted champion 3-year-old male.

Sent off at odds of 6-1 in the Kentucky Derby, Fisherman did not fire and was soundly defeated by Determine. At Saratoga, Fisherman scored a handy win in the historic Travers Stakes.

When one of the two American invitees to the prestigious Washington D.C. International, High Gun, was injured two days before the race, Fisherman was asked to sub for him.

Despite the short notice and having never trained or raced on the grass, Fisherman won over the soft Laurel Race Course surface, becoming the first American horse to win the International.

3. Dr. Fager was the winter book favorite for the 1967 Kentucky Derby when he met Damascus for the first time in the Gotham Stakes.

Damascus was coming off a win in the Bay Shore Stakes, and Dr. Fager was making his first start of the year, having been delayed by a blood infection. They were co-favorites at odds of 7-5.

Dr. Fager won the Gotham by a half-length. Owner William McKnight and trainer John Nerud kept Dr. Fager out of the Triple Crown to give the colt more time to develop. Damascus won the Wood Memorial and then was a stunning loser in the Kentucky Derby, finishing third at 8-5. He went on to a string of victories, including the Preakness and Belmont and the Travers by 22 lengths.

Damascus wrapped up 1967 Horse of the Year honors when he scored a 10-length win in the Woodward Stakes, defeating 1966 Horse of the Year Buckpasser and Dr. Fager, who would be Horse of the Year in 1968. Many historians consider it the greatest meeting in history of three Thoroughbreds.

4. General Assembly made his first start at age 3 at Hialeah but then shipped to New York to get away from his nemesis, Spectacular Bid. After winning the Gotham Stakes, General Assembly ran fifth in the Wood before again facing the Bid in the Kentucky Derby. General Assembly was no match for Spectacular Bid but finished second, three lengths in front of the third horse under the wire.

After scoring his most impressive win – a 15-length triumph in the historic Travers Stakes – General Assembly again finished second to Spectacular Bid in the Marlboro Cup.

The Firestones had to wait only one year to win the Kentucky Derby. In 1980, Genuine Risk, racing in Diana Firestone’s name, became the second filly to win the Louisville classic.

5. Lure was the favorite in 22 of his 25 lifetime starts, including the 1992 Gotham Stakes, where he dead-heated for the win with Devil His Due.

Lure’s best season was 1993, when he captured five graded stakes on the turf, including his second consecutive win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. At year’s end, he was runner-up in Eclipse Award voting for male turf champion and Horse of the Year to Kotashaan. Lure is one of the finalists for induction this year in racing's Hall of Fame.

Devil His Due followed his Gotham win with a victory in the Wood Memorial but was 12th in the Kentucky Derby. He finished first or second in 23 of his lifetime starts, most of them against the best horses of his era.