03/24/2006 1:00AM

Many waylaid on road to the Derby

Email

Beginning with the Florida Derby on Saturday and continuing the following two weekends, most of the Kentucky Derby hopefuls will make their final start before heading to Louisville.

As always, many 3-year-olds who began the year with strong credentials - like 2005's juvenile champion, Stevie Wonderboy - have dropped by the wayside, and more are likely to do so before the field enters the starting gate for the 132nd Derby on May 6. The road to the Derby has always been a rocky one, but more so in the past two decades, as trainers seem to be in a constant battle to keep their best horses sound.

In the 1970's, the 2-year-old champion went on to score in the Derby six times. No Eclipse Award-winning juvenile has done so since Spectacular Bid 27 years ago.

Test your knowledge of horses who generated a great deal of hype, but in the end caused a lot of Derby future book tickets to be torn up before the race was even run.

1. Hall of Fame trainer John E. Madden also excelled at another profession: breeding racehorses. Known as "The Wizard of the Turf," Madden bred 182 stakes winners, including five Kentucky Derby winners, five Belmont Stakes winners, and the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton.

In 1923, Madden proclaimed this future Hall of Famer, who was scratched off the program in the 1921 Kentucky Derby, the best horse he ever bred. Name him.

2. The foal crop of 1928 ranks among the best of the 20th century. It produced four major stakes winners, two of whom are members of racing's Hall of Fame.

The brightest of these stars was co-champion at age 2, Horse of the Year at ages 4 and 5, and champion again at age 6. After finishing fourth in the 1931 Preakness Stakes (then run before the Derby) at 9-5, he was entered in the Kentucky Derby, but scratched the day before. He was out for the season. Name him.

3. This colt was ranked sixth on the Experimental Free Handicap of 1961, but after his first three starts as a 3-year-old in 1962, he was the shortest-priced favorite in Agua Caliente's Kentucky Derby future book since Nashua in 1955. He injured himself in winning his third start at age 3 and was out for two months before winning the Stepping Stone Purse at Churchill Downs a week before the big one.

This colt and his stablemate were the coupled morning-line favorites on the Kentucky Derby program. Both were scratched the day before the Derby. Name the colt and his future Hall of Fame stablemate.

4. When the year 1966 rolled around, two names dominated the Derby picture. Both were magnificently bred - one by Tom Fool, the other by Ribot.

The Tom Fool colt won 9 of 11 starts at age 2 and was the unanimous choice for champion. The Ribot colt was undefeated in three Midwest starts at age 2, and those who saw him wondered if there was any horse alive who could run with him.

At age 3, the juvenile champ won the Everglades and Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah, while the Midwest star remained undefeated, winning a prep race by five lengths and the Bahamas Stakes by four lengths. Neither horse made it to Churchill Downs. Name them.

5. When this colt's undefeated 2-year-old season was over, he was being proclaimed a super horse. Before he stepped on the track as a 3-year-old, he had already been syndicated for $36 million, just shy of the North American record at the time.

A heavy future book favorite for the Derby, he scored a seven-length win at 1-20 in the Flamingo Prep at Hialeah, the initial start of his 3-year-old season. Despite winning the Forerunner Purse at Keeneland by 15 lengths and the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs by more than two lengths, he never made it to the Derby. Name him.

HISTORY CHALLENGE ANSWERS

1. Grey Lag, a chestnut son of the remarkable imported stallion Star Shoot (sire of Sir Barton), was not the best 2-year-old of 1920. But he was good enough to win the Champagne Stakes and Remsen Handicap.

Purchased in the middle of his juvenile season by trainer Sam Hildreth for oil magnate Harry F. Sinclair, Grey Lag wintered at his new owner's 1,244-acre Rancocas Farm in New Jersey. The colt's main objective was the 1921 Kentucky Derby, and because of his success at age 2 and his connections, he was one of the future book favorites.

Hildreth, a member of the Hall of Fame, trained Grey Lag up to the Derby, with no prep race. (This practice was not unusual at the time. In the previous decade, Regret, Sir Barton, and Exterminator had each won the Derby in their first start of the season.) Grey Lag was entered in the Derby but was scratched 48 hours before the race because of a stone bruise.

2. The 1928 foal crop included Twenty Grand, Mate, Jamestown, and Equipoise. William Rudy of The Blood-Horse magazine wrote of Equipoise in 1970, "As much as any horse in history, it may be said that no one could know how good he might have been had he been sound." Rudy added, "For four years, he possibly never ran in a race in which his feet did not trouble him."

It was a chronic quarter crack that forced Equipoise to be scratched from the Kentucky Derby and sent him to the sidelines for the season.

But when he retired in 1935, Equipoise had been champion four seasons, had set the world record for one mile, and had become a symbol of weight-carrying ability and courage.

3. Sir Gaylord, out of the broodmare Somethingroyal (who later would produce the immortal Secretariat), crushed his opposition in his four 3-year-old races leading up to the 1962 Kentucky Derby. He suffered a hairline fracture in a workout the morning before the big race and was scratched at midday.

Many thought his entrymate on the Derby program had an excellent chance of wearing the roses, but owner Christopher Chenery chose to leave Cicada in the Oaks that afternoon, even though there was plenty of time to scratch her and run her in the Derby. She won the Oaks easily. Cicada, champion filly at ages 2, 3, and 4, was one of the 20th century's great females.

4. To the surprise of many, when Agua Caliente opened its future book on the 1966 Kentucky Derby, Graustark was a slight favorite over the juvenile champion, Buckpasser. No other horse was even close.

In the Flamingo Stakes, Buckpasser would have been so heavy a favorite that Hialeah made the race a non-betting event despite a field of nine starters. (The press dubbed it the "Chicken Flamingo.") A week after winning that race, Buckpasser was found to have a quarter crack and was out of action for three months.

Prepping in the Blue Grass Stakes, Graustark, undefeated in six starts and a huge Derby favorite, lost by a nose and suffered a career-ending injury.

5. Devil's Bag, a son of Halo, looked awesome in winning all five of his starts at age 2 in 1983 by a combined 27 lengths. After the colt's inexplicable fourth-place finish at 3-10 in the Flamingo Stakes, trainer Woody Stephens headed for New York, pointing Devil's Bag for the Gotham and Wood Memorial stakes as final preps for the Derby. Poor weather and track conditions forced a change of plans, and Stephens shipped Devil's Bag to Kentucky.

The colt was gimpy after his Derby Trial win and was declared out of the Derby. A week later, Stephens won the 110th Derby with Swale, who had spent months in the shadow of his champion stablemate. The day after the Derby, a bone chip was found in Devil's Bag's leg, and he was retired.