12/13/2005 1:00AM

Moments to remember


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The NTRA is asking once again that racing fans step forward to nominate their most memorable moment of the year and send it along for consideration.

The contest was inspired by the image of Chris Antley cradling Charismatic's broken leg while emergency personnel rushed to help the colt in the aftermath of the

1999 Belmont Stakes. The heart-rending mix of compassion, tragedy, and instinctive horsemanship embodied by that particular scene was unlike any other public moment in horse racing that season.

Tiznow dominated the voting in 2000 and 2001 with his back-to-back victories in the Breeders' Cup Classic over the best horses Europe could offer. In 2002, fans chose to honor the death of Seattle Slew as the moment of greatest significance, and they got no argument, given the fiery old stallion's everlasting impact on the game.

Funny Cide's Kentucky Derby surprise provided the winning moment of 2003, while in 2004 it was the end of a Triple Crown dream in the Belmont Stakes for the blue-collar hero Smarty Jones.

As for 2005, well, why bother? Even though the contest runs into January, the moment of this year was cast in stone when Afleet Alex rose from his knees at the top of the Pimlico stretch to capture not just the Preakness, but the wide, wide world of sports itself.

In terms of permanent racing lore, the death-defying acrobatics of Afleet Alex earned immediate membership. His Preakness recovery can proudly take a place alongside such transcendent moments as the last ride of Johnny Longden, the death of Ruffian, Secretariat's Belmont, and the Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race. As one thoroughly grizzled racetracker said, after about his 18th look at the 2005 Preakness videotape, "I've seen everything, and I ain't never see anything like that."

Still, there was a lot of racing, and more than a few significant moments to go along with Afleet Alex and his Preakness. From this reporter's perch, these lead the pack:

Night bloomer: It is never easy to fly halfway around the world and hit the mark. Roses in May, ambitiously named, saved his best race for an evening in March of 2005 when he won the Dubai World Cup by three lengths in one of the best ever American efforts abroad. Tossing his head as he was led off the track, Roses in May caught owner Ken Ramsey with a glancing blow that knocked his glasses askew and drew a trickle of blood. Who says racing isn't a contact sport?

Alone at last: They were standing apart from the crowd, near the center of the winner's circle, as pandemonium surged through Churchill Downs, generated by the 50-1 shock by Giacomo in the 131st Kentucky Derby. Most of the attention was on the horse as he made his way down the turf course toward victory lane, but a glance at owners Ann and Jerry Moss would have spied them joined in a soft embrace, eyes locked, oblivious to the other 156,000 people on the scene. Jerry said something that only Ann could hear. She beamed and kissed her husband. Later, he shared his words, and they were hardly a surprise: "Can you believe it? We just won the Kentucky Derby!"

Swept away: As long as we are going to take the graded race system seriously, the events of May 30, 2005, at Hollywood Park require special recognition. That is the day two

fillies owned and bred by Janis Whitham finished first and second in the Grade 1 Gamely Handicap. The feat was not unprecedented - folks named Phipps have done it before - but it was certainly a first for someone who does her business from a ranch near the western Kansas town of Leoti, better known for its dusty summers and nasty winters than as the nerve center of a small Thoroughbred empire.

Rabbit season: Contrary to the evidence offered by several major Eastern races, it was not the Year of the Rabbit (Rooster, actually, with Dog coming up). Still, it was entertaining to watch Shake the Bank sprint away from his turf fields, leaving stablemate Better Talk Now and the rest of the opposition furlongs behind. And how about those two Rick Dutrow bunnies - Show Boot and Crafty Player - who wrangled Commentator into submission in the Woodward. Everyone's favorite cottontail, though, was Bishop Court Hill, who seemed to do everything in his power to compromise the chances of Flower Alley in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and it worked. Too bad they were on the same team.

Private wow: John Velazquez, in rising to the top of his profession, is also assuming an admirable leadership role among his fellow jockeys. No one dared follow him, though, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, when Private Vow's left rein snapped and all hell almost broke loose. Everything Velazquez ever learned about balance, strength, and horse sense came into play that day, as he deftly guided his colt out of harm's way and back home in one piece.

All moments to remember, but one more to add, occurring at 5:33 on the afternoon of Sept. 27, 2005, when a little girl entered the world in a San Diego hospital. True, this wasn't strictly a racing moment, but at least her mom is a member of the Hall of Fame. And if the little one doesn't quite yet answer to the name of Lorelei, that's okay, as long as she calls me Dad.