08/28/2009 12:00AM

Two others did what Rachel hopes to do

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Compared with other major stakes for older horses on the New York Racing Association calendar, the Woodward Stakes - despite having been around since 1954 - is the new kid on the block.

For example, the Metropolitan Mile, Suburban, and Brooklyn handicaps each trace their roots to the 19th century, while the Jockey Club Gold Cup was first run in 1919 and the Whitney Handicap debuted in 1928.

Despite its comparatively short history, the Woodward Stakes, run under handicap conditions on several occasions, has showcased some of the sport's greatest champions and some of its most memorable moments.

The Woodward joined the Belmont Park calendar a year following the 1953 death of William Woodward Sr., one of the giants of Thoroughbred racing history. Woodward was for 20 years chairman of The Jockey Club and his Belair Stud near Bowie, Md., bred and raced some of the sport's best, including two winners of the Triple Crown (Gallant Fox and Omaha).

In 2006, NYRA moved the Woodward Stakes earlier on the calendar to the final weekend of the Saratoga meeting, when it will be run for the 56th time Saturday.

Test your knowledge of the history of this great race.

1. Rachel Alexandra is scheduled to be entered in Saturday's Woodward Stakes in hopes of becoming the first female to capture the event. Her co-owner, Jess Jackson, is not shy about saying that he is after the Horse of the Year title for his sensational 3-year-old filly.

But even if she adds beating older males to her record of defeating 3-year-old males, goes on to defeat older females, and is voted Horse of the Year, she will not be the first - but the third - Thoroughbred to accomplish those feats since the advent of formal voting for year-end champions in 1936. Name the other two.

2. William Woodward Sr. did not live long enough to watch any performances by perhaps the best horse he ever bred, Nashua. His son William Woodward Jr. carried on the Belair racing operations, and under his guidance Nashua was voted champion at age 2 and Horse of the Year at age 3.

Nashua attempted to win the race named for his breeder in 1956, but finished second. The famed white-with-red-polka-dot silks of Belair Stud did eventually land in the winner's circle in a legendary running of the Woodward. Name the winning horse.

3. It is hard to find a major handicap in New York that does not contain among its past winners the name of Kelso.

A five-time Horse of the Year (1960-1964), Kelso won the Woodward Stakes three straight years (1961-1963), but in 1964, a horse finally emerged to give the gelding a stiff challenge for year-end honors.

The two met in the Woodward and as one trainer said afterwards to historian William Rudy, "You'll never see a greater race." Name the 1964 Woodward winner.

4. The list of winners of the Woodward Stakes reads like a Who's Who in racing. Because there have been repeat winners, only 46 horses have won the 55 runnings to date. No fewer than 17 of these Woodward winners have been inducted in the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The number is 18 if you count a disqualified winner (Cougar II).

One of these champions won the Woodward four straight years. Name him.

5. When the incomparable Spectacular Bid won the 1980 Woodward, it was the first walkover (a race in which only one horse starts) in a major stakes race in America in 31 years and the first at Belmont Park in 58 years.

Despite the remarkable experience, the Bid's owner, Harry Meyerhoff, and trainer, Bud Delp, were none too pleased with NYRA about the race and considered skipping it. What caused their unhappiness?

Answers

1. In 1944, the 3-year-old filly Twilight Tear beat older males en route to being voted Horse of the Year. Amazingly, one year later, the 3-year-old filly Busher duplicated that feat.

Twilight Tear won 14 races in 17 starts at age 3, defeating her own sex and age in such races as the Pimlico Oaks and CCA Oaks; 3-year-old males in the Rennert and Skokie handicaps, and the Washington Classic; and older females in the Queen Isabella Handicap. She capped off the season beating older males in the Pimlico Special.

In 1945 - a season that did not get underway until May because of a wartime ban on racing - Busher defeated her peers in the Santa Susana and Cleopatra handicaps; 3-year-old males in the San Vicente Stakes and Hollywood Derby; and older females in the Santa Margarita, Beverly, and Vanity handicaps.

Busher's two most stunning performances, however, came in beating older males (including 1947 Horse of the Year Armed) in the Arlington and Washington Park handicaps.

2. Two weeks after Nashua completed his 1955 season, William Woodward Jr. was shot and killed by his wife, who claimed she mistook him for a prowler. The Belair Stud disbanded the following year.

In the early 1960s, Woodward Jr.'s sister Edith Bancroft joined her mother in breeding a small stable of mares. One of their offspring was Damascus.

En route to Horse of the Year honors in 1967, the 3-year-old Damascus met 1966 Horse of the Year Buckpasser and eventual 1968 Horse of the Year Dr. Fager in the Woodward Stakes - considered by some the greatest meeting of Thoroughbreds in American racing history.

The three - all headed for the Hall of Fame - had compiled a record of 48 wins in 58 starts to that point. Buckpasser was a slight favorite, but Damascus crushed the field by 10 lengths.

3. In 1964, Gun Bow won the San Fernando Stakes by five lengths, Charles H. Strub Stakes by 12, San Antonio Handicap by four, Brooklyn Handicap by 12, and Whitney Handicap by 10, among others. He seemed poised to dethrone Kelso as Horse of the Year.

In the Woodward, the two battled head and head the entire length of the Aqueduct stretch (Belmont Park was closed for rebuilding) and reached the wire as a team. Using a magnifying glass, the placing judges determined that Gun Bow had prevailed by one-half inch.

A month later, the two met in the Washington, D.C., International with the title on the line. Kelso coasted to an easy win in what was then the nation's premier grass race. Gun Bow was 4 1/2 lengths back in second.

4. Forego finished fourth to Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, but he was little noticed that season. In the four years that followed, Forego placed his name among the pantheon of racing immortals.

Horse of the Year in 1974, 1975, and 1976, Forego was champion handicap horse in 1977. In each of those four seasons, he captured the Woodward - run under handicap conditions in 1976-77. Forego carried 135 pounds in 1976 and 133 in 1977.

Forego lost a fourth Horse of the Year title to Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew in 1977. Seattle Slew won the Woodward Stakes the following season, when it returned to weight-for-age. Triple Crown winner Affirmed won the 1979 Woodward.

5. Racetracks had already been enhancing purses to attract stars to big races by 1980. Hollywood Park did so for Affirmed a year earlier.

(The purse for the 2009 Woodward was bumped to $750,000 from $500,000 for Rachel Alexandra.)

But in winning the 1980 Woodward in a rare walkover, Spectacular Bid got only half ($73,300) the purse to which he was entitled based on the value of the race.

NYRA invoked an archaic, century-old racing law in effect in most states, wherein winners of walkovers are entitled to only "one-half the guaranteed purse, plus nomination fees." Unbelievably, NYRA stood its ground and almost lost the appearance of the last super horse of the 20th century in the final race of his remarkable career.