01/25/2002 12:00AM

Let us now praise almost-famous horses


Sunday's 29th running of the Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct is one of more than 60 stakes races on the New York Racing Association calendar that honors horses.

Many of the honored runners - champions of yesteryear like Count Fleet and Gallant Fox and newer stars like Personal Ensign and Go For Wand - are familiar to today's racing fans. But many of the stakes are named after horses long forgotten by followers of the sport.

The naming of stakes races for horses is an inexact science, at best. Busanda, who was never a champion, had a race named for her 20 years after she left the racetrack.

The legendary Man o' War, perhaps the greatest horse in American racing history, did not have a stakes race named for him until 39 years after he left the track and 12 years after he died.

Busanda, by the way, won a half-dozen stakes in the early 1950's, but was more prominent as a broodmare - producing three stakes winners, including Buckpasser.

Test your knowledge of other lesser-knowns who have stakes named for them.

1. This colt, foaled in 1904, was bred and owned by James R. Keene, who at the turn of the 20th century was the most prominent breeder and owner in the country. Keene's stable regularly headed the list of leading money-winners. In 1907, his horses won a record $397,342 - more than seven percent of total purse distribution in America that year.

This Keene star won the Belmont Stakes in 1907 and today his name is still prominent each year in the weeks leading up to the third leg of the Triple Crown.

Name him.

2. The year 1884 produced one of the great Thoroughbred crops of the 19th century, including two Hall of Fame members, Hanover and Kingston, and the great mare Firenze.

This horse, also a member of that crop, won all 13 of his starts as a 2-year-old. No undefeated juvenile in America in the past 120 years has equaled that record.

Owned by the Dwyer Brothers, who were dominant players in the sport in the late 19th century, this colt never raced again. Name him.

3. Col. Edward Riley Bradley bred and raced some of the top horses of the 1920's through 1940's. He was the first to own four Kentucky Derby winners.

This champion filly, by War Admiral out of Baby League, by La Troienne, was the last great horse Bradley bred and raced.

Early in her 3-year-old season, this filly was sold to movie mogul Louis B. Mayer. By year-end, she had won more money than any female in history and was voted Horse of the Year in every poll.

Name her.

4. Her sire and dam did not accomplish much on the racetrack, but both came from classic lines, so Harry Payne Whitney took a chance and mated them.

Not much was expected from the filly who resulted from the mating, but she drew from her strong bloodlines and became a champion at both ages 2 and 3 and is generally regarded as one of the best of her sex to compete during the 20th century.

She was 7 for 7 as a juvenile, defeating colts in the Saratoga Special and in the Futurities at both Belmont and Pimlico. She won 5 of 9 starts at age 3.

Name her.

5. This bay colt was from the first crop of imported Princequillos, out of the mare Hildene, both of whom would go on to greatness in the breeding shed.

He was second co-highweight on the Experimental Free Handicap of 1950. The highweight, Middleground, did go on to win the Kentucky Derby, but this colt won the Preakness and was ultimately voted Horse of the Year in 1951.

This runner was bred and owned by the Meadow Stable, which two decades later produced the immortal Secretariat.

Name the horse.

1. Peter Pan, owned by James R. Keene, won 10 of 17 lifetime starts and retired at the end of 1907 as the seventh leading money winner in history, with earnings of $115,450.

Named for the fictional flying orphan (later made famous on stage by Mary Martin and on screen by Walt Disney), Peter Pan was overshadowed by his younger stablemate, Colin, who retired in 1908 undefeated in 15 starts.

The 1907 Belmont Stakes ($21,765) was the richest prize won by Peter Pan. Among his other stakes wins was the Brooklyn Derby, a race now known as the Dwyer Stakes.

While the immortal Colin was arguably the greatest runner of the many champions bred and owned by Keene, Peter Pan proved to be the best sire. Before his death at age 29 in 1933, Peter Pan sired a remarkable 48 stakes winners, including Pennant and Black Toney.

The 49th running of the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes is scheduled for May 25 at Belmont Park.

2. When the 19th century came to a close, many racing authorities called Tremont, a son of Virgil, the greatest 2-year-old ever bred in America.

Remarkably, Tremont raced for only 10 weeks - from May to August 1886. His first start was the Juvenile Stakes at Jerome Park on May 27. His 13th start came on Aug. 7 in the Junior Champion Stakes at Monmouth Park. Tremont won all 13 starts by an average margin of nearly six lengths and set a juvenile earnings record of $39,135.

Training for his 3-year-old debut, Tremont broke down and was retired. That year, 1887, his owners Mike and Phil Dwyer opened Gravesend Race Track in Brooklyn and promptly named a race for their star.

The Grade 3 Tremont Stakes for 2-year-olds will be run for the 110th time on June 29 at Belmont Park.

3. Louis B. Mayer, of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer fame, bought Busher for $50,000 in early 1945, a year when all racing was shut down from January to May because of wartime restrictions.

She had been champion 2-year-old filly the previous season when she won 5 of 7 starts.

In the shortened 1945 season, Busher won 10 of 13 starts. Her wins included:

* San Vicente Stakes, beating 3-year-old males

* Santa Margarita Handicap, beating older females

* Arlington Handicap and Washington Park Handicap, beating older males, including Armed.

She was voted best 3-year-old of either sex, best handicap female, and Horse of the Year.

The Busher Stakes will be run for the 25th time on March 2 at Aqueduct.

4. Harry Payne Whitney did not live to see Top Flight race. His son, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, took over the stable when his father died in 1930.

At the end of her undefeated championship season at age 2 in 1931, Top Flight's earnings of $219,000 were more than the lifetime earnings of any female runner ever.

She won only 5 of 9 starts at age 3, but it was still good enough to earn her the title of champion 3-year-old filly.

The Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap will be run for the 63rd time on Nov. 29 at Aqueduct.

5. Hill Prince beat Middleground by two lengths the first time the two met in the 1950 Wood Memorial Stakes at Jamaica.

In the Kentucky Derby two weeks later, Hill Prince lagged behind early as usual but could not make up any ground on Middleground in the stretch.

In the Preakness, jockey Eddie Arcaro moved Hill Prince much sooner than usual and won in a canter, with Middleground five lengths back.

Running in the Suburban Handicap before the Belmont Stakes probably tired Hill Prince out. He ran a dull seventh in the third leg of the Triple Crown. Middleground won.

Hill Prince won four more stakes that year and was voted Horse of the Year.

The 28th running of the Grade 3 Hill Prince Stakes is scheduled for June 15 at Belmont Park.