12/31/2004 12:00AM

Racing legends in time of woe

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HISTORY CHALLENGE

One-hundred years ago, Thoroughbred racing in America was facing challenges that threatened its existence.

At the beginning of 1905, there were only 32 racetracks still in operation in the United States, according to Goodwin's Turf Guide, predecessor to the American Racing Manual. A decade earlier, that same source's annual review had listed more than 300 American racetracks in operation.

By the end of 1911, religious zealots and anti-gambling crusaders would succeed in shutting racing down in every state except Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maryland.

Throughout the first decade of the 20th century and for much of the second, owners and breeders shipped their best horses abroad as the value of their stock steadily declined in the United States.

But despite all of racing's woes, 1905 marked the appearance of some of the sport's greatest stars. No fewer than six future members of the Hall of Fame were seen in action that year.

And 1905 marked the opening of one of the sport's grandest venues - Belmont Park on Long Island in New York

Test your knowledge of racing in 1905.

1. On Thursday, May 4, 1905, more than 40,000 fans were on hand to witness opening day of the country's newest racetrack, Belmont Park. Three weeks later, the 39th running of the Belmont Stakes was run for the first time at a track that bore its name.

Opening day featured the 14th running of the Metropolitan Handicap (previously run at Morris Park). The race ended in a dead heat for win that included a future Hall of Fame member who was considered by many the 20th century's greatest horse until Man o' War came along.

Name the two horses in the dead heat.

2. On Aug. 19, 1905, this 4-year-old filly attempted to beat males for the second year in a row in the 1 3/4-mile Saratoga Cup. She finished second and was retired from racing.

Bred by August Belmont II, this champion had lost some of the luster from her 1904 season, in which she won 12 of 14 starts, beating males and her elders in many of her 10 stakes wins, which included the Carter Handicap and Saratoga Cup.

Name this champion filly.

3. At the age of 22, he was a clerk in a cork factory in Pittsburgh, earning $12 a week. When he died 20 years later, on Feb. 1, 1905, in Ashville, N.C., he was regarded as not only the most famous, but the most brilliant, horseplayer and gambler in America.

Bookmakers in the late 19th and early 20th Century feared him as he put many of them out of business. It is estimated that he bet more than $2.5 million a year - sometimes as much as $15,000 on one race.

Name him.

4. On March 18, 1905, this champion colt, like his sire - the brilliant Domino - died prematurely, after only four seasons at stud. Domino died at age 6, after producing only 19 named foals. This stallion, Domino's greatest son, died at age 7, after producing only 27 named foals.

A foal he had sired in 1904 and another born just weeks after his death in 1905 would become champions and future Hall of Fame members.

Name the Hall of Famer and the two Hall of Fame members he sired.

5. On Oct. 6, 1905, this 4-year-old gelding established a world record for six furlongs around a turn (1:11.60) in the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park. And he did it under the crushing impost of 147 pounds.

A year later, he won the same race carrying an identical 147 pounds. Twenty-eight times in his 111-race career he went to post with 140-150 pounds.

Name this Hall of Famer.

HISTORY ANSWERS

1. The 3-year-old Sysonby dead-heated with 4-year-old Race King in the Met Mile, opening-day feature at the first Belmont Park meeting in 1905. Despite their ages, Sysonby carried 10 pounds more than Race King.

Sysonby ended his career later that year with only one defeat in 15 lifetime starts, that coming as a juvenile in 1904, when he was third to the Harry Payne Whitney's champion filly Artful. A groom later admitted to drugging the colt before the race.

Owned by James R. Keene, Sysonby was acclaimed Horse of the Year in 1905.

The following year, Sysonby suffered for months from a mysterious and painful blood and skin ailment that claimed his life that June. More than 4,000 people attended his burial service at Sheepshead Bay Race Course the following day.

Artful, who handed Sysonby his only loss, was undefeated in three races at age 3 in 1905, after which she was retired.

Sysonby and Artful both were enshrined in racing's Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1956, the second year of inductions.

2. Beldame beat males in the Suburban Handicap in 1905, but she was not quite the same filly she had been the prior year, when she was acclaimed champion 3-year-old filly.

Interestingly, Beldame's owner and breeder, August Belmont II, leased her to his friend Newton Bennington for her championship season.

Described as a "public idol" by The Thoroughbred Record, Beldame retired the third richest female in racing history, with earnings of more than $102,000. She trailed only Miss Woodford and Firenze.

Late in 1905, Aqueduct presented the first running of the Beldame Handicap, a race for 2-year-old fillies that was run off and on through 1932. Resurrected in 1939, the Beldame became one of the richest races in the country for older females.

Beldame was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1956.

3. Bookies in Chicago gave him the nickname by which he became famous, "Pittsburgh Phil," but his real name was George H. Smith.

When he died at age 42 in 1905, his name was legendary throughout the country. Over two decades, he bet and made millions, concentrating primarily on horses during most of the final years of his career.

Betting was not an emotional experience for Smith, but instead a business proposition. He studied the form of horses and could recite their performances from memory.

Smith also bought and raced some top Thoroughbreds, including Howard Mann, winner of the 1897 Brooklyn Handicap. Because of his reputation as a gambler, however, many tracks eventually barred horses he owned.

4. Domino's greatest son, Commando, was foaled in 1898, a year after his sire's death. Commando was acclaimed Horse of the Year in 1900 and 1901. He won the 1901 Belmont Stakes in his first start in more than seven months.

Commando produced only 27 foals before his premature death in 1905, but one was Peter Pan, 3-year-old champion of 1907, and another was the undefeated Colin, Horse of the Year in 1907 and 1908.

Commando, Colin, and Peter Pan all were elected to racing's Hall of Fame in 1956.

5. In a career that spanned seven seasons, Roseben put on weight-carrying exhibitions that had never before been seen in racing - and have never been seen since.

Nicknamed "The Big Train" because of his massive size (nearly 18 hands) and weight-carrying ability, Roseben rarely ventured beyond six or seven furlongs, but he did win twice at one mile, including the Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct in 1905.

On the two occasions where he was assigned 150 pounds, Roseben finished second both times. Roseben was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1956.

(Note: Other Hall of Fame horses who competed during 1905 and were not mentioned in the above answers were the brilliant sire Broomstick and the champion steeplechaser Good and Plenty.)