01/21/2003 1:00AM

Little Current dead at 32


Little Current, champion 3-year-old colt of 1974 when he won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and at 32 the oldest living winner of a Triple Crown race, died Jan. 19 in Monroe, Wash.

Veterinarians Mark and Ann Hansen, who cared for Little Current in his later years, euthanized the horse after a fatty tumor blocking his intestine caused him to colic.

The Hansens, both veterinarians, put Little Current down at their Pacific Equine clinic, where the horse lived since the Hansens purchased him in 1995.

Ann Hansen said Little Current began to colic late on Jan. 18. She and her husband treated him with intravenous fluids, administered mineral oil via a stomach tube, and gave him pain medication. When his condition deteriorated later that night, they opted to euthanize him.

"Surgery at his age wouldn't have been fair," Hansen said. "He had tremendous intelligence, presence, and personality. Dignity was the number one word for Little Current. You could sense his power even when you were standing next to him. He had tremendous charisma."

A Darby Dan homebred trained by Lou Rondinello, Little Current won the second and third legs of the Triple Crown in 1974 and was voted that year's champion 3-year-old colt. But he is at least as well known for what might have been in the 1974 Kentucky Derby. Little Current's many fans have long contended that the colt probably would have won the race, and the Triple Crown, if he had not faced traffic problems that developed in the record field of 23 horses. Finally pulling outside to get clear of the roadblocks, Little Current made his standard stretch run, blazing from about 22 lengths back to finish fifth behind winner Cannonade.

The following year, a rule was instituted limiting the Derby field to 20.

Little Current, a son of the My Babu mare Luiana, was not known as an especially robust colt, a fact trainer Rondinello considered part of his inheritance from his sire, Sea-Bird. But he rebounded from his hard-luck Derby run to win the Preakness by seven lengths under Miguel Rivera. He won by the same margin in the Belmont, again coming from behind. Later that season, he finished a close second behind Holding Pattern in the Monmouth Invitational and Travers Stakes, both Grade 1 races.

At stud, Little Current sired the Grade 1 winners Current Hope and Prize Spot among more than 30 stakes winners from 21 crops. His progeny earnings stand at $15,069,816. Little Current was pensioned at Pacific Equine in the mid-1990's and still received regular visits from racing fans. Among the most devoted of those was Kevin Grace, a former employee of the Maryland Racing Commission who flew to Washington five or six times a year. Grace also has spearheaded a four-year campaign to get Little Current inducted in racing's Hall of Fame.

Little Current stood early in his career at Buck Pond Farm in Versailles, Ky., then moved to Louisiana before being sold to the Hansens. Buck Pond owner Doug Arnold said Tuesday that one condition of Buck Pond's decision to sell Little Current to the Hansens was that the stallion's remains would be returned for burial at Buck Pond.