04/29/2002 12:00AM

Resurrecting the ghosts of Derbies past

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The great jockey Eddie Arcaro once wrote, "I was the luckiest guy that ever lived, and the Kentucky Derby was a key factor.

"No matter where I traveled - in this country, in Europe, anywhere - I don't think I've had five conversations with strangers that didn't include some question or comment about the Kentucky Derby," Arcaro added. (Arcaro and Bill Hartack jointly hold the record of most victories in the Louisville classic, with five each.)

The Kentucky Derby will be run Saturday for the 128th time, and this year's running, like the 127 that preceded it, likely will produce one or two stories that in time will become part of the lore of the most famous two minutes in sport.

Test your knowledge of these Derby chronicles.

1. The first 12 runnings of the Kentucky Derby (1875-1886) featured many of the best 3-year-olds in the country. But an incident in 1886 caused most of the biggest stables in the country to boycott the Derby for the next quarter century.

By the late 1800's and through the first decade of the 1900's, the Derby was mostly a local event with small, mediocre fields.

What happened in 1886?

2. At the turn of the 20th century, a group of breeders formed the American Breeders' Protective Association. With money raised from dues, the group bought dozens of fillies and mares and stripped them of their registration papers.

The well-intentioned but misguided goal was to protect the vitality of Thoroughbred industry by ridding it of inefficient producers. Some horses were bought for as little as $5.

One mare who was bought for $15 and stripped of her papers in 1901 was the 18-year-old Petticoat. Earlier that year, she had dropped a colt who three years later would win the Kentucky Derby. Name the horse.

3. In 1999, when Laffit Pincay Jr. - today the world's all-time leading rider in number of wins - chose not to leave California to ride Charismatic, he missed the opportunity to win his second Kentucky Derby.

Every year, jockeys and their agents are faced with decisions that can mean the difference between sitting atop a horse in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May or watching the race on television.

In 1964, Bill Shoemaker, who before Pincay was the world's winningest rider, was the regular jockey for Northern Dancer, pride of the East, when he was offered the mount on Hill Rise, pride of the West.

The Shoe chose to ride Hill Rise in the 90th Kentucky Derby. Had he stuck with Northern Dancer, he would today have a record-equaling five winners in the race.

Eddie Arcaro, who also made wrong calls during his career, scored the first of his five wins in the Kentucky Derby when a fellow rider chose not to leave New York.

Name the rider and the horse.

4. When 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given turned in a puzzlingly dull performance in the Kentucky Derby, his sire, Thunder Gulch, missed an opportunity to become the 13th Kentucky Derby winner to sire a winner of the Louisville classic.

Only one Kentucky Derby winner sired two winners of the Churchill Downs classic. Name him.

5. Kentucky Derby winners have faced each other only 43 times since the race was first run in 1875. And 1918 winner Exterminator - who made 100 career starts - was involved in one-third of those races.

With the abbreviated careers of recent Kentucky Derby winners, racing fans may have a long wait until the next time two Derby winners meet on the racetrack.

One Derby winner faced the winner of the previous year's Derby once and the winner of the following year's Derby once, and lost both times to world-record performances. Name him.

HISTORY CHALLENGE ANSWERS

1. Usually, when an owner wins the Kentucky Derby, he or she is thrilled. But that was not the case in 1886 for James Ben Ali Haggin, the nation's biggest breeder and one of the world's wealthiest men. Haggin was a big bettor, but that year, a dispute between a racetrack contractor and local bookmakers led to a standoff that left the bookmaker stands unoccupied on Derby Day.

Haggin was furious because he and the many friends he brought to Louisville were limited in the bets they could place on his colt Ben Ali, who won the 12th running of the Derby that year.

Upon hearing that Haggin was demanding bookmakers, one of the track's directors commented that the Derby didn't need Haggin.

When told of the comment, Haggin shipped all his horses east and never returned.

Haggin had influence. Most of the top Eastern stables, upon learning of the treatment he received, stopped shipping their horses to Churchill Downs.

2. The mare Petticoat, who was purchased for $15 in 1901 and stripped of her papers to protect the breeding industry, had earlier in the year given birth to a bay colt by Free Knight.

Named Elwood, the horse won the 1904 Kentucky Derby. He also captured the Latonia Derby later that year.

While Elwood will never appear on any list of great horses, his owner, Laska Durnell, holds the distinction of being both the first woman to start a horse in the Derby and the first to win.

3. In 1935, a young Eddie Arcaro, riding in his first Kentucky Derby, found himself on the post-time favorite, Nellie Flag. The filly, owned by Calumet Farm, finished fourth to eventual Triple Crown winner Omaha.

Three years later, Arcaro got his second mount in the Kentucky Derby aboard Lawrin. The colt's regular rider, Wayne Wright, declined the offer to ride the horse because he was committed to Caballero II in the Excelsior Handicap at Jamaica in New York the same day.

In his 1951 autobiography, "I Ride to Win," Arcaro recalled how reluctant he was to take the mount on Lawrin and how hard trainer Ben Jones worked to convince him.

At the time, three powerful colts - Stagehand, Bull Lea, and Fighting Fox - figured to have the Derby at their mercy.

Stagehand missed the race because of a cough. On Derby Day, neither Bull Lea nor Fighting Fox fired, and Arcaro guided Lawrin to an upset win.

Wright, who gave up the mount on Lawrin, did win the same day at Jamaica with Caballero II.

4. The only Kentucky Derby winner to sire two winners of the Louisville classic was 1936 winner Bold Venture. He sired Assault (1946) and Middleground (1950).

When Alan-a-Dale captured the 1902 running of the Kentucky Derby, his sire, Halma (the 1895 Derby winner), became the first winner to sire a winner of the race.

The most recent Kentucky Derby winner to be sired by a winner of the race was Grindstone (1996), a son of Unbridled (1990).

5. On Sept. 20, 1972, Riva Ridge, winner of that year's Kentucky Derby, met Canonero II, winner of the 1971 Derby, in the Stymie Handicap at Belmont Park.

Canonero beat Riva Ridge, who was favored at 3-5, by five lengths and equaled the world record for 1 1/8 miles on dirt (1:46.20).

On Sept. 15 the next year, Riva Ridge met his younger stablemate Secretariat, 1973 Triple Crown winner, in the inaugural Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park. Riva Ridge finished second, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Secretariat. The final time was a new world record for 1 1/8 miles on dirt (1:45.40).