11/02/2001 1:00AM

History Challenge questions

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If one were to write briefly the highlights of more than three centuries of Thoroughbred racing in America, the rare matchups on the racetrack of the greatest horses of all time likely would take up much of the space.

In days gone by, the lure of great Thoroughbred champions facing off caused town mayors to proclaim public holidays, houses of the U.S. Congress to recess early, and presidents of the United States to interrupt meetings.

In her current best seller, "Seabiscuit: An American Legend," author Laura Hillenbrand introduces thousands of readers to the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the epic 1938 meeting between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. For a moment in time, this long-awaited and much-postponed confrontation - the only time the two Depression-era champions met - held the country captivated.

Test your knowledge of some other famous match-ups of the past 100 years.

1. When The Blood-Horse magazine released its poll of the Top 100 horses of the 20th century, these three horses were ranked sixth, 14th, and 16th.

All were voted Horse of the Year; all were millionaires in an era in which you could still count all the sport's million-dollar earners on two hands; and their combined lifetime records showed 85 starts, 64 wins, 13 seconds, and 5 thirds.

These three champions came together only once - on a cool, autumn afternoon at Aqueduct Racetrack. The odds on the tote board showed how divided the public was: 8-5, 9-5, and 9-5.

Name the race and the three horses.

2. Garden State Park ended nearly 60 years of racing earlier this year when it closed its doors for the final time.

Many of the greats during that period raced at the Cherry Hill, N.J., track, including Whirlaway, Citation, Kelso, and Secretariat.

Garden State was the scene of another match-up between three great horses - each destined for a place in the Hall of Fame.

It was not the first time that these three 3-year-olds had met on the track, and their coming together at Garden State was more coincidental than planned. But when it happened, the media quickly dubbed the event, "The Race of the Year."

Name the race and the three horses.

3. Five of the 11 contestants in this early 20th-century handicap race would be or had already been named champions. Three were Horses of the Year.

But what would make the race even more famous in future years is that it was the first time that three Kentucky Derby winners met on the racetrack.

Name the race and the three horses.

4. This was the quintessential battle of East vs. West. One horse was bred in California and owned and trained by two transplanted Arizona cattle ranchers.

The other horse was a blue blood from Kentucky, owned by one of racing's most distinguished Eastern families and trained by one of the most celebrated trainers in the chronicles of the sport.

The second and final meeting of these two future Hall of Fame colts came on a Wednesday afternoon in August. It was the most anticipated sports event of the year.

Name the two horses.

5. These two greats colts met only once. It was the battle for Horse of the Year, but it would be some years later before it was recognized for what it was: a landmark confrontation in the annals of the sport.

Their career records: Both were champions at ages 2, 3, and 4. Both became the world's leading money earners. Both were voted Horse of the Year (one, twice). The gray won 26 of 30 lifetime starts; the chestnut won 22 of 29 starts.

Name the race and the two horses.