03/05/2002 12:00AM

Tired 'Tent' gets golden handshake

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You wouldn't think much attention would have been paid to a horse running in a $4,000 claimer at Philadelphia Park, but , a 13-year-old with earnings exceeding $700,000, apparently had an ardent following.

Through a fund-raising campaign, spearheaded by the New York Horse Rescue and advertised on various horse-racing message boards and the New York Racing Association's website, $4,000 was raised to claim and retire the popular Golden Tent, who was making his 118th start at Philly Park on Monday. He finished third, beaten 12 lengths, as the favorite.

New York trainer Gary Contessa, who donated $1,000 to the cause, made the claim on behalf of the Long Island-based New York Horse Rescue, which last year placed 100 horses, mainly retired racehorses, in adoptive homes around the country.

Mona Kanciper, the president of New York Horse Rescue, said she had received numerous e-mails regarding Golden Tent, who was running at Philly Park for the first time after several solid years on the NYRA circuit. In his heyday, the gelding, who retired with $733,887 in earnings, competed in allowance races, high-level claimers, and even some graded stakes.

The last time Golden Tent, a Maryland-bred who doesn't possess a fancy pedigree, won was when he scored in a $10,000 claimer, the bottom of the ladder in New York, in February 2001 at Aqueduct.

"Racing fans feel sorry for these old warriors who are still racing," said Kanciper, who said pledges came pouring in from all over the country. "I had people who said they won money betting on Golden Tent and wanted to help out."

While racing in New York, Golden Tent was claimed on several occasions. He spent a large portion of his career with trainer Mike Hushion and owner Barry Schwartz, the chairman of NYRA. While running for Schwartz, Golden Tent won more than $500,000 and placed in graded races, such as the Bold Ruler and Gravesend.

Schwartz, who first claimed Golden Tent for $50,000 in May 1994, liked him so much that he reclaimed him two times after losing him through the claim box. Golden Tent carried Schwartz's black and white silks for the final time during the summer of 1999.

"He didn't tail off until the last couple of years," said Schwartz, who along with Hushion pledged money so Golden Tent could be claimed on Monday at Philly Park.

Contessa, who leads the standings at Aqueduct's inner track meet, is a big supporter of the New York Horse Rescue. A couple of years ago, Contessa donated Iron Gavel, who earned $707,488 and made 100 starts, to the organization. "[Golden Tent] is an old, classy guy, and deserved better than running with bottom claimers," Contessa said.