11/15/2002 12:00AM

History challenge: Great geldings long before John Henry

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Geldings have been much maligned throughout the history of racing.

A strong faction of horsemen has always held the belief that since they cannot improve the breed, geldings are merely "instruments of gambling."

Others have felt that geldings play a major role in the sport and do improve the breed when they add to their sires' records.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, geldings were barred at one time or another from many of the great races, such as the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness, the Whitney, the Withers, and many of the famous futurities. A ban on geldings in the Kentucky Derby was enacted in 1918, but never implemented.

The fact remains - geldings have been prominent when championships have been decided. From 1960 to 1984, geldings accounted for 11 of the 25 Horse of the Year titles. They were Kelso (1960-1964), Fort Marcy (1970), Forego (1974-1976), and John Henry (1981 and 1984).

Test your knowledge of some other famous champion geldings.

1. Renowned racing journalist and historian Kent Hollingsworth called this horse, "America's greatest gelding of the 19th century."

A champion at ages 2, 4, and 5 in America, this brown gelding traveled to England in 1879 and 1880 and soundly trounced the great English stars of the day when he accounted for the Newmarket, City and Suburban, Great Metropolitan, and Great Cheshire handicaps. He also won the Epsom Gold Cup.

He returned to America and raced through the age of 12, retiring as America's leading money earner.

Name him.

2. He was one of five Kentucky Derby winners bred by "The Wizard," John E. Madden. He was champion 2-year-old when he won 12 of 14 starts. During one 12-day period as a juvenile, he established four track records.

He started only three times at age 3, but one was a victory in the Kentucky Derby. His winning margin of eight lengths has been equaled, but never surpassed, in the 128-year history of the Churchill Downs classic.

Name him.

3. What do you get when a horse used only as a teaser accidentally mates with a blind claiming mare? Answer: A winner of more than two dozen stakes and a champion at ages 3 and 4 and Horse of the Year at age 3.

Little was expected from this bay gelding. He scored his second career win in his eighth start, a $2,000 claiming race. In all, he won only four of 17 starts at age 2.

The following year, he won 12 of 16 starts, including the Travers Stakes in track-record time.

Name him.

4. The foal crop of 1921 was one of the best of the 20th century. It included Black Gold, Mad Play, Ladkin, Wise Counsellor, and the fillies Princess Doreen and Nellie Morse.

But the best of the crop was this horse. He won all 10 of his starts as a juvenile, but because he was gelded, he could not compete in the best races and thus was not voted champion.

He was Horse of the Year the next two years and champion older horse at age 5.

Name him.

5. Of the literally hundreds of horses acclaimed or voted champions during the 20th century, only one managed to win in double figures for three consecutive years.

Like many geldings, no one noticed this son of Bull Lea until he was a 4-year-old. He did not start at age 2 and won only three minor races at age 3.

As a 5-year-old, when he won 11 of 18 starts, he was asked to carry 130-132 pounds in 10 consecutive starts. For a brief period, he was the world's leading money earner.

Name him.

History challenge answers - .