11/19/2010 5:24PM

History Challenge: The Remsen


When Go for Gin and Thunder Gulch parlayed victories as 2-year-olds in the Remsen Stakes to back-to-back wins in the Kentucky Derby in 1994 and 1995, Triple Crown pundits pounced on the race as a key indicator for the spring classics.

Ironically, since that time no winner of the Remsen has gone on to capture any of the classics, although champions like Skip Away and Empire Maker have competed in the Grade 2 Aqueduct race.

The Remsen, along with its filly counterpart, the Demoiselle Stakes -- both of which will be run Saturday -- are the only graded races in America run for 2-year-olds at the distance of 1 1/8 miles.

The Remsen Handicap was run for the first time in 1904 at Jamaica Race Course, its home for most of the event's history, until that track was shuttered in 1959. The race was run under handicap conditions until 1954.

For many of its early decades, the Remsen was run at 5, 5 1/2, or six furlongs. The race was lengthened to 9 furlongs in 1973, where it has remained since.

Test your knowledge of the Remsen, which will be run for the 97th time this year.

1. The name Remsen is derived from Col. Joremus Remsen (1735-1790), leader of the Revolutionary forces at the Battle of Long Island. The Remsen family at one time owned a significant part of Long Island. The race, however, may have been named for a street honoring the colonel, Remsen Street in Brooklyn, according to some historians.

What significance did Remsen Street have to racing in the early 20th century?

2. As a sprint run in the fall at Jamaica after such major events as the Futurity and Champagne stakes at Belmont Park, it is not surprising that the Remsen did not produce many champions in its early decades. The first Remsen winner to capture a classic was a Hall of Famer, Grey Lag, who won the Belmont Stakes in 1921. He was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but was scratched the day before the race.

Who was the first horse to complete the Remsen-Kentucky Derby double?

3. As it became established, the Remsen was contested by many of the sport's top stars. In 1935, a little-known colt finished ninth in the Remsen in his 30th start as a 2-year-old. Despite being trained by future Hall of Famer Jim Fitzsimmons and owned by the powerful Wheatley Stable, he garnered little attention. His name was Seabiscuit.
Damascus won the race in 1966. At age 3, he was voted Horse of the Year.

But of all the horses to compete in the Remsen, this 1963 winner of the race likely had the greatest impact on the sport. Name him.

4. When the horses entered the starting gate for the 136th Kentucky Derby this past May, only one of the 20 entrants had more than nine lifetime starts. The winner, Super Saver, had six prior starts -- two at age 3.

This past champion was making his 21st and final start as a 2-year-old when he won the Remsen Stakes, then run at one mile. When he entered the Kentucky Derby as the betting favorite, he was making his 28th career start. He won the Derby and Preakness and went on to race 61 times in all. In his last start, at age 5, he beat a stellar field in the Trenton Handicap at Garden State Park. Name him.

5. Affirmed and Alydar are two Hall of Fame members and rivals whose names will forever be connected. Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, with Alydar chasing him home second in all three races.

As a 2-year-old, Alydar won five of his 10 starts. In four of his losses, Affirmed was the winner. But in the Remsen Stakes, Alydar was soundly beaten by another rival who set a stakes record (that still stands to this day) and may have been one of the sport's shining stars had he come along at another time. Name him.

Answers below.

Horse racing in America at the beginning of the 20th century was under siege from religious zealots and politicians pandering to them. By 1911, betting on horses had been outlawed in nearly every state in the union with the exceptions of Maryland and Kentucky.

In New York, bill after bill was introduced primarily by Republican legislators in the state capitol in Albany in the first decade -- all designed to close racetracks down. Court battles followed the passage of each bill.

Eventually, legislators, with the staunch backing of Republican Gov. Charles Evans Hughes, succeeded and all racing came to an end in the Empire State following the close of the Saratoga meeting in 1910.

The New York tracks had been strongly supported by Democratic political leaders, many of whom were members of their party's private club, the Paumonok, which was located on Remsen Street in Brooklyn.

It is no coincidence that two stakes races born at Jamaica Race Course during this era were the Remsen Handicap (1904) and the Paumonok Handicap (1906). The Paumonok was contested this past January at Aqueduct for the 102nd time.

2. It was well known that William Woodward, owner of Belair Stud, preferred to save his best horses for the classics and later races, rather than pressing to win the top juvenile stakes.

But since Johnstown, a foal of 1936, was sired by a Futurity Stakes winner (Jamestown) whose sire (St. James) had also won the Futurity, Woodward started the bay colt early in his 2-year-old year.

Johnstown did not win the Futurity, but he did finish the year with three stakes wins, including the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and the Remsen Handicap.

After winning his first three races at age 3 by a combined 20 lengths, Johnstown romped to a record-equaling, eight-length win in the 1939 Kentucky Derby. It was Belair's third win in the Louisville classic, and Johnstown became the first Remsen winner to capture the Derby.

Facing mud for the first time and pressed heavily on the pace, Johnstown flopped in the Preakness, finishing fifth as the 2-5 favorite. Back on a fast track, Johnstown easily romped to a five-length win in the Belmont Stakes.

3. Canadian-bred Northern Dancer scored a handy victory in the 1963 Remsen Stakes. He was named champion 3-year-old the following season when he won the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Queen's Plate.

But it was as a sire that Northern Dancer made his biggest mark. Considered by most the greatest sire and sire of sires of the 20th century, Northern Dancer produced a remarkable 147 stakes winners, many like Nijinsky II and Storm Bird, who went on to be great sires themselves.

4. In the early 1960's, an era when horse racing still published figures showing it as the most-attended sport in the nation, Carry Back was one of the fan favorites.

By the long-forgotten sire Saggy, out of a mare, Joppy, who cost owner-trainer-breeder Jack Price only $300, Carry Back was a true Cinderella story. He danced all the dances and in the process became racing's fourth million-dollar earner.

His Remsen victory in 1960 followed a win in the richest race of the year, the $287,000 Garden State Stakes. The following season, Carry Back won the Everglades Stakes, Flamingo Stakes, and Florida Derby before coming from 18 lengths back turning for home to capture the Kentucky Derby.

5. Alydar had the misfortune of being in the same foal crop as Affirmed. And Believe It had the misfortune of being in the same crop as Affirmed and Alydar.

A son of In Reality, Believe It won the 1977 Remsen Stakes, beating Alydar by two lengths in 1:47.80, a full second faster than any Remsen has been run before or since.

Believe It barely lost the Florida Derby and then trounced the field in the Wood Memorial Stakes, but he was a soundly beaten third in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.