10/23/2003 11:00PM

Match races? Try mismatches

Email

Sixty-five years ago this week, Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral in one of the great match races of the 20th century - a race brought to life again in Laura Hillenbrand's recent best-seller, "Seabiscuit, An American Legend," and the movie it spawned.

Match racing had its beginnings in America shortly after the settlement of Jamestown in colonial Virginia in the 1600's. Because cleared land was scarce, horse racing was conducted mostly along narrow roads or paths between trees. Of necessity, the races were short and limited to two starters.

Even when racecourses were built later that century and races expanded to include larger fields, match racing remained popular until well into the 20th century.

The 1975 contest between champions Foolish Pleasure and Ruffian at Belmont Park was the last significant match race in America. Ruffian broke down and later was euthanized.

The tragedy, combined with the rise of a new type of owner - one more interested in the financial end than the sporting aspect of racing - effectively ended match races.

Test your knowledge of some important, but lesser known, match races from the past century.

1. Two match races that certainly rank in importance alongside the Nov. 1, 1938, Seabiscuit-War Admiral contest were the Oct. 12, 1920, meeting between Sir Barton and Man o' War and the Aug. 31, 1955, match that pitted Swaps against Nashua. The six starters in the three races all won the title Horse of the Year once during their careers.

And all three races essentially were mismatches. Sir Barton was never close in his match with Man o' War, nor was Swaps ever prominent in his race with Nashua. While War Admiral made several runs at Seabiscuit, he was soundly beaten in the end.

In 1949, Horse of the Year was on the line when these two champions met at Pimlico on Oct. 28. Again, it proved to be a mismatch.

Name the two horses.

2. Following victories in the Flamingo, Wood Memorial, and Derby Trial stakes, this horse was sent off the 4-5 favorite in the 1949 Kentucky Derby. After setting the pace, he faded to sixth. Four months earlier, this colt owned by Fred W. Hooper participated in a most unusual match race at Tropical Park in Florida.

Name the two horses in the match race.

3. As noted earlier, many match races turned out to be one-sided affairs, often because one of the entrants was ailing or not in his best form on the day of the race.

One match race that lived up to its billing was this 1942 contest that pitted a blue-blooded Triple Crown champion against a horse who had sold for $700 as a yearling. It was so close at the finish that fans had to wait agonizing minutes for the photo to be developed.

Name the two horses.

4. Today's Thoroughbred stars are frequently scratched from big races by trainers if they so much as sneeze. This was not the case in the bygone days.

So much was one champion's health questioned that Belmont Park refused to allow betting on a $100,000 match race on Sept. 27, 1947.

The two competitors were Horses of the Year, future members of racing's Hall of Fame, and both were at times the world's leading money winner.

Name the two horses.

5. The two richest match races in American history took place in the 1970's at Hollywood Park. While each race had a future national champion, neither race garnered significant attention outside of Southern California.

The outcome of the two races could not have been more different. One was a ding-dong, head-and-head battle to the wire. The other was a mismatch of gigantic proportions.

Name the horses involved in the match races.

HISTORY ANSWERS

1. With the immortal Citation taking the year 1949 off because of sore ankles, his Calumet Farm stablemate Coaltown "won every race for which he [Citation] normally would have been pointed," noted turf writer Joe Palmer said.

In his first 13 starts of the year, Coaltown won 12. He broke track records from Hialeah to Arlington. He set or equaled the world record for one mile, 1 1/8 miles, and 1 1/4 miles. Seven times he won with 130 pounds.

Yet in his final two starts of 1949, he lost to the 3-year-old Capot. First was a 1 1/2-length loss at 1-10 in the Sysonby Mile.

The two then met in a match in the Pimlico Special on Oct. 28. Coaltown was favored at 1-5. Capot drew the rail, took off like a shot, and Coaltown was never in the race. In the end, Capot was 12 lengths in front of Coaltown, who was eased.

Because Coaltown ran in two races too many, Capot (who won only 6 of 16 starts) was voted 3-year-old champion and Horse of the Year in the Daily Racing Form-Morning Telegraph poll. Most racing followers conceded that had Coaltown stopped after 13 starts, he would have been Horse of the Year and Ponder would have been voted best 3-year-old.

2. It had long been accepted - at least in Quarter Horse circles - that no Thoroughbred could beat a Quarter Horse going a quarter-mile (440 yards).

In Olympia, owner Fred Hooper had one of the fastest 2-year-old Thoroughbreds in the country in 1948. Hooper agreed for Olympia to take on a Texas-bred Quarter Horse filly named Stella Moore at Tropical Park on Jan. 5, 1949.

Under Willie Garner, Olympia shot to the lead and just lasted to win by a head in 22.60 seconds. While there was no betting on the race, hard boots from the Southwest descended on south Florida for the event and it is believed that tens of thousands of dollars changed hands.

3. Alsab, who sold for $700 as a yearling at Saratoga in 1940, won his last 10 starts of 1941 en route to being voted 2-year-old champion. That same year, Whirlaway won the Triple Crown en route to being named Horse of the Year.

The two met in a match race on Sept. 19, 1942, at Narragansett Park in Rhode Island. Both were horses who liked to come from off the pace, so the big question was which one would take the lead.

Whirlaway, at 1-5, let Alsab set the early pace. At the top of the stretch, Whirlaway began to chip away at the younger horse's lead and when they reached the wire, no one was certain who won. The photo showed Alsab by a whisker.

4. Triple Crown winner Assault, suffering from a splint that bothered him one day but not the next, never got close to Armed in their 1947 match race at Belmont Park - at the time equaling the richest match race ever run.

Armed's owner, Warren Wright of Calumet Farm, donated the $100,000 purse to charity.

5. Three top fillies and mares - Turkish Trousers, Typecast, and Convenience - took turns beating each other in Southern California in early 1972.

With Turkish Trousers sidelined, Typecast and Convenience met in a $250,000 match race at Hollywood Park on June 17. Each owner put up $100,000 and the track put up the remainder.

In one of the most exciting match races ever, Convenience - who set the early pace - held off a furious charge by Typecast to win by a head.

Typecast went on to beat males in several important stakes and was voted champion handicap mare of 1972.

Two years later, Chris Evert faced Miss Musket in a $350,000 match race on July 20, 1974, at Hollywood Park. Chris Evert took charge early and Miss Musket, the favorite, was eased to be beaten by 50 lengths. Chris Evert went on that year to be voted champion 3-year-old filly.