Steve Haskin's Classic Story (Cont.)

Sakhee, runaway winner of the Arc and the Juddmonte International (Eng-I), was on the brink of superstardom, but most felt he was strictly a turf horse. When both colts turned in incredibly slow works, Godolphin remained at square one. Assistant trainer Tom Albertrani, however, liked the way Sakhee handled the dirt and said afterward, "I just have this gut feeling Sakhee is going to run in the Classic."

The following morning, America's main hope, Aptitude, turned in a sharp five-furlong work in 1:00 4/5. Later that afternoon, just past 4:30, a Sallee horse van rolled into the Belmont backstretch carrying two Breeders' Cup horses. The first off the van was the freshly clipped Caller One, a leading contender for the Sprint (gr. I). After him, came the familiar tornado-blazed face of Tiznow. Despite a layer of dust that covered him after his long trip from California, the champ was bursting with dapples. The colt stopped to shake some of the dust off and was led into the grassy area behind Shug McGaughey's barn by exercise rider Ramon Arciga to unwind a little. A few minutes later, the tranquility was interrupted by the muffled sound of Tom Durkin's voice calling that day's eighth race. In a flash, Tiznow's head sprang up. He eyes widened and he stood like a statue, with his ears cocked, staring off into the distance at the Belmont grandstand. It wasn't until the race was over and all was again quiet that he returned to grazing.

"He knows where the action is," Arciga said. "He knows something big is about to happen. Arciga then turned to Tiznow and said, "Hey, Papa, we're gonna kick some butt, aren't we?" Tiznow then was led into his stall, took a roll in the wood shavings, and settled in to his new home for the week.

The following morning, Robbins showed up, not knowing what to expect from his temperamental star. Much to his dismay, he was soon to find out. Tiznow went out for his clockwise jog around the track just after the renovation break, and immediately turned into a one-horse wrecking crew, balking, kicking, back-peddling, and side-stepping his way around the track. As he walked off, Robbins told Arciga to bring him back on and go around again. "I'm either gonna confuse him or confuse myself," he said. Tiznow was better the second time around, but down the backstretch, he lost it again, and scooted backwards across the width of the track. An outrider finally grabbed Tiznow and escorted him back. It was like the Queen Mary needing a tow to the dock.

Robbins decided to change the colt's schedule, sending him out before the break, when there was much less traffic, and having him go counterclockwise for a change. It seemed to work. Accompanied by Pam York and her pony, Andy, Tiznow improved each day. Robbins, watching from the trainer's stand one morning, crossed both his fingers as Tiznow ambled calmly around the track. His gallops got stronger, and by late week, he was tearing over the track with the same power and authority as he had the year before at Churchill Downs.

The next piece in the Classic puzzle was put into place the afternoon of Oct. 23, with the arrival of the mighty Galileo and the other Aidan O'Brien-trained horses. Earlier, Godolphin conditioner Saeed bin Suroor had arrived and sent Sakhee and Fantastic Light out for more strenuous works. Jockey Frankie Dettori worked Fantastic Light five furlongs in :59 4/5. There seemed little doubt the hard-knocking warrior was heading for the Classic and a rubber match with arch rival Galileo, who had beaten Fantastic Light in the King George before losing a gut-wrencher in the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I). Certainly there was no doubt in Dettori's mind. Returning to the barn, he leaned over and smacked the colt on the neck and said to him, "Hey, boy, you didn't have Galileo to fight with today, did you? This is easy with no one to scrap with."

A short while later, Sakhee went out for his work with exercise rider Lee Roebuck aboard. The son of Bahri is much more excitable than his stablemate, and Sakhee's connections didn't want to risk working him too fast with Dettori up. Sakhee turned in a smooth five-furlong drill in 1:01, much to the delight of Suroor and Albertrani.

Just after 4:30 that afternoon, a DC-8 Air Transport International jet landed at JFK carrying one of the most expensive shipments of horseflesh in history. The insurance company appraised the O'Brien arsenal at nearly $200 million, with English and Irish Derby winner Galileo alone valued at $65 million. Veterinarian John Miller boarded the plane to take blood, which would be flown by Lear Jet to Ames, Iowa, where head lab technician John Eli would meet the plane and take the samples back for analysis. Expediting the procedure would allow the horses to clear quarantine by 10 p.m. the next day.

Earlier on Wednesday, Oct. 24, Godolphin sent shock waves rippling through the backstretch when it announced Fantastic Light would run in the Turf and Sakhee would go for the Classic in an attempt to climb Mt. Olympus and enter the pantheon of greats. For Bobby Frankel, that morning started out good, with all his horses galloping beautifully. But it didn't end so well when Aptitude drew post 12. "Terrible!" Frankel barked as he left the Breeders' Cup marquee tent.

In addition to the numerous questions surrounding the Classic, no one had a clue what to make of Albert the Great, who seemingly had gone off form and appeared over the top. Trainer Nick Zito was hoping that wasn't the case, but really didn't know what to expect from the colt, who was known for his consistency.

World Thoroughbred Championships Day finally arrived with mostly clear skies, but cold and windy conditions. When French filly Banks Hill, Irish colt Johannesburg, and England's Fantastic Light all made light work of the Filly & Mare Turf, Juvenile, and Turf, respectively, the Americans were in danger of going home with their tails between their legs. Walking to the holding barn, Arciga spoke to Tiznow with reassuring words. The big colt pinned his ears and "gave me that look," Arciga said. He had seen that same look a year earlier and a wave of confidence came over him. "I said to myself, 'We're gonna do it. We're gonna do it.' "

Aptitude was sent off the 2-1 favorite, followed by Galileo at 3-1, Sakhee at 9-2, and Tiznow at 6-1. At the start, Albert the Great came charging out of post nine and immediately hooked up with longshot Orientate. Tiznow also was hustled out of post 10 by McCarron, who settled the big colt nicely in third. Galileo and Sakhee were not far behind, in fifth and sixth, respectively. Aptitude got hung wide from post 12. After a quarter in :23.27 and a half in :47.04 against the wind, Albert the Great put Orientate away and opened up by a length, with Guided Tour moving up on the inside.

Around the far turn, through a pair of solid quarters in :24.28 and :24.55, Aptitude, who was 10-wide down the backstretch, still was very wide and obviously in big trouble. Approaching the quarter pole, Albert the Great still led by a length, as Tiznow made his move, with Sakhee sitting right off his flank. Galileo was running one-paced and had little kick. Frankie Dettori threw a cross on Sakhee, then hit him right-handed when he drifted slightly wide. Tiznow is not a whip horse, and McCarron kept hand-riding, despite the ominous presence of Sakhee on his outside.