Steve Haskin's Classic Story: All-American Win

Steve Haskin's Classic Story: All-American Win
Photo: Mike Corrado
Tiznow nosed out Sakhee for his second Breeders' Cup Classic.
Published in the Nov. 3 issue of The Blood-Horse
It was happening all over again. America was a heartbeat away from being conquered in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). This time, however, a defeat would have been an ignominious end to the 2001 World Thoroughbred Championships. First, it was a thrashing from the French in the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). Then, it was the Irish who decimated the American youngsters, headed by the invincible Officer, in the Juvenile (gr. I). Adding insult to injury, the Turf (gr. IT) then went to the English, with the Irish finishing off a one-two European coup-de-grace.

Now, the axe was about to fall. Godolphin's brilliant Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner Sakhee, with immortality a mere furlong away, reached back to deal the fatal blow. But then something happened, something we've seen before. Right before everyone's eyes, last year's Superman, Tiznow, stripped away the glasses and gray suit he had worn in his previous two races. The Clark Kent of the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) and Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) was becoming airborne, just as he had in the 2000 Classic when another European powerhouse, Giant's Causeway, dared to challenge America's dominance on dirt.

American racing fans had sought out other heroes this year to replace Tiznow following the colt's back injury in the spring, two defeats in the fall, and bouts of morning madness that had trainer Jay Robbins and jockey Chris McCarron looking for any available horse shrink.

But that was in the past. All Tiznow needed was an opponent to re-ignite the fire in his eyes. One look at Sakhee about to deal America another crushing defeat and the mild-mannered colt once again became faster than a speeding bullet; once again became more powerful than a locomotive. He reached back into that undefinable reservoir we call heart, and in the shadow of the wire, was able to leap the world's tallest building with a single bound. America, for a fleeting instant, was as she was before Sept. 11--untainted and unpenetrable. The nation's fighting spirit that emerged in the face of disaster had manifested itself in the form of a magnificent, powerful Thoroughbred who simply refused to be defeated.

By thrusting his nose in front of Sakhee on the wire, a California-bred colt with relatively obscure bloodlines had become the first two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic. And he did it by defeating the greatest international field ever assembled for a dirt race. His victims included the winners of the English Derby (Eng-I), Irish Derby (Ire-I), Arc de Triomphe, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I), and Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I), as well as two Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winners.

But the road to victory had not been an easy one for Tiznow and his connections. The defending Horse of the Year appeared to be heading for further glory after romping in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). But that all changed on the morning of April 12 following a six-furlong workout with McCarron aboard. After the saddle was removed, the colt just stood there and refused to walk. Robbins' initial reaction was "Uh oh."

After that, Tiznow was unable to jog properly, and was noticeably off in his hind end. Dr. Rick Arthur was called in. A nuclear scan revealed that one of the vertebrae was showing a good deal of heat. That was complicated by muscular problems. Robbins' father, Jack, one of the foremost veterinarians in the country before his retirement, also tried to figure out what was wrong.

"We consulted with other vets around the country," Jay Robbins said, "and they had never seen anything like it. It hurt me to watch him; he could hardly move."

"No one thought he'd ever run again," Jack Robbins added. "He was so off behind, everyone was horrified. If someone had told me then this colt would win the Breeders' Cup Classic again this year, I wouldn't have believed it. Dr. Arthur put him on Robaxin and prescribed lots of time and rest."

Tiznow began light exercise during the middle of May, but his trainer felt the horse wasn't making much progress. "We poulticed his back and put hot packs on it, then walked him a lot," Robbins said. "He began to show improvement, so we started galloping him. He still didn't look that good and a lot of my peers said, 'Why don't you just retire him?' Chris galloped him one morning in July and said he didn't feel quite right behind. But I could see improvement and he began to gradually get better. Finally, Chris got on him one morning and said he felt perfect."

After the injury, Robbins had put Tiznow on tranquilizers in order to make it easier to train him. "He's so into what he does, I didn't want him to do too much every day," he said.

Tiznow made his return in the Woodward Stakes and finished a close third, but didn't seem to have his usual spark. Instead of improving off the race, he turned in an uncharacteristically dull performance in the Goodwood, behind Freedom Crest and Skimming. Following the Goodwood, Robbins took Tiznow off the tranquilizers, and in the process, unleashed a terror.

Let's just say mornings with Tiznow were not quite as mellow as mornings in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood. The colt became obstinate and cantankerous, lashing out at his lead pony and refusing to train until he was good and ready. Robbins and owner Michael Cooper had to think long and hard about returning east for the Classic. It finally was decided to ship Tiznow back to New York to defend his title.

Meanwhile, events were taking place at Belmont and in England that would set the stage for one of the greatest international spectacles in the history of the sport. On Friday, Oct. 19, Godolphin's dynamic duo of Fantastic Light and Sakhee went to the Belmont track for their first work. No decision had been made in which races both colts would run, but everyone had been led to believe that Fantastic Light, who had a good dirt pedigree and who had worked on the Belmont main track the year before, would go for the Classic.

Continued...

Classic Chart, From Equibase

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