04/01/2011 2:35PM

Humpty Dumpty and old Jamaica shared a common trait

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Twenty horses who competed in Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial Stakes have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. The Wood trails only the Blue Grass Stakes (22) and Florida Derby (21) as a stepping-stone to Derby success.

If you count horses who had their pictures taken in the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle, the Wood and Blue Grass are tied at 21 and the Florida Derby drops to 20. In 1968, Wood Memorial winner Dancer’s Image won the Kentucky Derby, but was disqualified days later for a drug positive. Forward Pass, winner of both the Florida Derby and Blue Grass, was declared the official winner (after court battles that lasted five years).

In fairness to Gulfstream, the Blue Grass and Wood Memorial have each been run 86 times, while the Florida Derby has been run only 59 times. (The Blue Grass was run at the Kentucky Association track in Lexington from 1911 to 1933 and revived by Keeneland in 1937. A race known as the Blue Grass Stakes for 3-year-olds was regularly run at Churchill Downs in the late 1800s through 1908, but it was a 6 1/2-furlong sprint run after the Derby.)

With the 87th running of the $1 million Wood scheduled for next Saturday, test your knowledge of New York’s premier prep for the Triple Crown.

1. From its inaugural running in 1925 through 1959, the Wood Memorial was contested at Jamaica Race Track, which was located about five miles east of its present home at Aqueduct. Jamaica was located in what today is Rochdale Village.

When the Greater New York Association (later renamed the New York Racing Association) was formed in 1955, a decision was made to rebuild Aqueduct and close Jamaica. Jamaica ran its final race in 1959.

Throughout its 56-year history, Jamaica’s one-mile track was unique from any other major racecourse in America. How so?

2. In addition to the Wood Memorial, a number of other well-known stakes races still run today each had its origins at Jamaica.
During the track’s early years, the Excelsior Handicap was the highlight of the meeting. The race, now a Grade 3, was run this weekend at Aqueduct for the 99th time.

Among other races originated at Jamaica were the Correction, Paumonok, and Jamaica handicaps and the Firenze, Prioress, and Youthful stakes.

It was 22 years after Jamaica opened before the Wood premiered. For whom is the race named?

3. The headline of the May 4, 1925 Daily Racing Form proclaimed, “H. P. Whitney’s Backbone Victor in New Jamaica Race.” The story of the first running of the Wood went on to say that “virtually every starter has been named for the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Derby.”

Backbone finished 14th in the 51st running of the Derby that year. And it would be a while before any Wood contestant would win the Louisville classic. Who was the first horse to compete in the Wood and go on to win the Kentucky Derby.

4. Fred W. Hooper, one of the most honored and revered owners and breeders of the second half of the 20th century, won the Kentucky Derby with the first horse he ever purchased, Hoop Jr., in 1945.

Prior to the Derby, Hoop Jr. had captured the second division of the Wood Memorial. Hooper wanted desperately to win another Kentucky Derby. He died in 2000 at age 102 without getting his second Derby winner.

Hooper started three more horses in the Louisville classic – two of whom won the Wood Memorial and one of whom was odds-on in the Derby. Name the three horses.

5. Arguably the biggest upset in Wood Memorial history was the third-place finish by the immortal Secretariat in 1973. The 2010 Disney motion picture “Secretariat” only alluded to the winner of the race, instead concentrating on the battle between Secretariat and his challenger from the West, Sham, who finished second in the Wood.

The Wood winner was a stablemate of Secretariat’s who also ran coupled in the wagering with the big red horse in the Kentucky Derby. Name him.

HISTORY CHALLENGE ANSWERS

1. The Metropolitan Jockey Club opened Jamaica Race Track on April 27, 1903.

The one-mile track was elliptical, or egg-shaped, with a tight, narrow clubhouse turn and a wide, sweeping far turn. While the stretch at most one-mile ovals begins just after the quarter pole, Jamaica’s homestretch began at the three-sixteenths pole.

With the grandstand not quite parallel to the stretch, fans – even those seated right on the finish line – had a difficult time calling tight finishes.

Jamaica brought to seven the number of major tracks on the New York circuit at the time. The others were Aqueduct, Belmont, Brighton Beach, Gravesend, Saratoga, and Sheepshead Bay. Each ran two meetings a year (except Saratoga) of from six to 21 days each.

Four years later, an eighth track came on the scene when Empire City in Yonkers converted from harness racing to Thoroughbreds.

2. Eugene D. Wood was one of the founders, principal shareholders, and president of the Metropolitan Jockey Club.

In 1925, a year following Wood’s death, the track inaugurated the Wood Stakes, changing the name two years later to the Wood Memorial.
Throughout his life, Wood was not only an avid horse racing fan and gambler, but was also one of the most powerful and ruthless Democratic lobbyists at the state capitol.

One biographer wrote, “If there was a scandal in Albany between 1890 and 1910, Eugene Wood was invariably part of it.”

Not long after Wood’s death, his personal physician Edward Kilroe assumed leadership of the track. One of his sons was Frank “Jimmy” Kilroe, who went on to become one of the most influential racing secretaries and racetrack executives of the 20th century.

3. In 1930, Gallant Fox won the Wood Memorial, becoming the first horse to compete in the Jamaica race to capture the Kentucky Derby. Gallant Fox won the Preakness Stakes (run before the Derby in that era) and the Belmont Stakes to become racing’s second winner of what soon would be known as the sport’s Triple Crown.

Five other Triple Crown winners competed in the Wood. Omaha (1935) and Secretariat (1973) both ran third in the Wood. Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), and Seattle Slew (1977) each won the Wood.

Whirlaway (1941), second in the Blue Grass Stakes, is the only runner to compete in that prep race and win the Triple Crown. No Triple Crown winner has run in the Florida Derby.

4. Fred W. Hooper bred the winners of more than 100 stakes races – including Hall of Fame inductees Susan’s Girl and Precisionist.
Hooper’s horse Hoop Jr. won the Kentucky Derby on June 9, 1945 – the only time the race was run in June – after winning the only Wood Memorial run in late May. (The War Department had banned all racing the first four months of 1945.)

Hooper’s horse Olympia won the Wood in 1949 en route to being the 4-5 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, where the colt finished sixth.
In 1961, Hooper’s horse Crozier took the lead in the stretch of the Derby, only to be collared by Carry Back.

A year later, Admiral’s Voyage, bred and owned by Hooper, dead-heated for win with Sunrise County in the Wood Memorial (Sunrise County was disqualified and placed second). Admiral’s Voyage finished ninth in the Derby.

5. Angle Light was all out in the final strides to hold off the charge of Sham in the 1973 Wood Memorial.

Lucien Laurin trained the winner, but was obviously more concerned that afternoon with Angle Light’s stablemate Secretariat, who struggled home a well-beaten third.

Angle Light and Secretariat were coupled for wagering purposes under state racing rules at the time.

The Wood was Angle Light’s first and only career stakes win, but the bay colt had not been disgraced in earlier stakes appearances. At age 2, he finished third to Secretariat in the Laurel Futurity and second to him in the Garden State Stakes.

Prior to the Wood, Angle Light finished third in both the Flamingo Stakes and Louisiana Derby.