02/28/2013 3:37PM

History challenge: Sixty years of Gotham greats

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Bob Coglianese
Secretariat is the only horse to run in the Gotham and win the Kentucky Derby.

For six decades, the Gotham Stakes – which will be contested Saturday at Aqueduct – has served as a final prep in New York for the Wood Memorial Stakes.

Remarkably, during that time, 11 horses who ran in the Wood Memorial went on to win the Kentucky Derby, whereas only one who ran in the Gotham won the Derby.

That “one” was the immortal Secretariat, who captured the Gotham in 1973, equaling the track record for one mile (1:33.40). Two weeks later, the big red horse stunned the racing world when he finished third in the Wood.

First run in 1953 at Jamaica Race Course, the Gotham replaced the Experimental Free Handicap No. 2, which started in 1946. (The Experimental No. 2 was run at 1 1/16 miles, and the Experimental No. 1 was run at six furlongs earlier in the meeting.)
During its early years, the Gotham was contested two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, and the Wood was one week before.

The Gotham and Wood remained at Jamaica until that egg-shaped track, first opened in 1903, closed its doors in 1959 when New Aqueduct was unveiled. Jamaica was torn down and replaced by a housing development.

Test your knowledge of the Gotham Stakes.

1. A dream of every racetrack official and racing secretary is that, when they present a stakes for the first time, it will attract a strong field. Sometimes, they get lucky.

War Admiral won the inaugural running of the Pimlico Special in 1937. A year later, Seabiscuit won the first Hollywood Gold Cup. John Henry won the first $1 million Thoroughbred event, the inaugural Arlington Million, in 1981. All three are in racing’s Hall of Fame.

The first Gotham Stakes attracted 18 overnight entries, necessitating a split into two divisions. The faster-run second division and the one with the most competitive field was won by Laffango, a horse few probably remember.

The first division was won by a horse whom historians often include in discussions about the greatest Thoroughbreds of all time. Name him.

2. Each decade produces a small list of horses whose names will live on in the years to come. Some achieve racing’s highest honor, induction into the Hall of Fame.

But for each of these, there are an equal number who are just a cut below the best. They are never voted champion, yet many of them make headlines for several seasons and are still remembered by those who were around at the time to see them.

One such horse was this Gotham and Travers winner whose earnings totaled $436,050 in four seasons. He was the first American invitee to capture the Washington D.C. International at Laurel, for years the country’s most prestigious grass race. Name him.

3. The first two horses across the finish line of the 93rd Kentucky Derby were Proud Clarion and Barbs Delight. The Derby was Proud Clarion’s first win in a stakes race. He would win only one more, the Roamer Handicap. Barbs Delight had a somewhat better career, winning five stakes in four seasons.

One month before that year’s Derby, the first two 3-year-olds across the finish line in the Gotham Stakes would complete their careers with a combined total of 39 wins, nine seconds, and four thirds in 54 starts. Thirty-four of their wins came in stakes races. Both would be voted Horse of the Year in separate seasons, and both are in the Hall of Fame. Name them.

4. If you own a really nice horse, the last thing you want is for him or her to be foaled the same year as a super horse. Such was the case for Bertram and Diana Firestone, whose homebred chestnut colt probably would have been champion in 1978 and 1979 were it not for Spectacular Bid.

The Firestone homebred was himself by a super horse, Secretariat, and like his sire he won the Gotham Stakes. He also won the Hopeful and Saratoga Special stakes at age 2 but was second in the Champagne Stakes and Laurel Futurity to Spectacular Bid. Name him.

5. Only once in its history has the Gotham Stakes resulted in a dead heat for win. While the two horses involved were not players in the outcome of any of the Triple Crown races, each had distinguished careers on the track.

One won nine graded stakes and nearly $4 million in four seasons, including back-to-back runnings of the Suburban Handicap. The other accounted for 10 graded stakes – including back-to-back runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Mile – and more than $2.5 million in earnings in four seasons.

Despite their magnificent records, neither was ever voted a champion in any season. Name the horses.

See the answers HERE.