Steve Haskin

Steve Haskin

Anne M. Eberhardt

Tiznow and Giant's Causeway Gave Us a Classic to Remember

Published in the Nov. 11 issue of The Blood-Horse
Both horses had been here before. At first, it seemed like just another brawl, in another alley, in another town. Tiznow and Giant's Causeway thrived on bare-knuckle street fights, and because of this lust for battle, their reputations preceded them as they strutted into Louisville, Ky., for the 17th Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).

Sneak up from behind and hit them on the head if you have to, but do not under any circumstances look them in the eye. In this skirmish, however, things were different. When Tiznow and Giant's Causeway looked into each other's eyes, they saw something they'd never seen before: a fire that matched their own.

Here was Giant's Causeway, a chestnut streak of light who brightened many a gray afternoon for racing fans in England and Ireland. They could not recall a horse with the toughness and tenacity of this son of Storm Cat. How fitting that a horse with such a big heart be born on Valentine's Day. His five consecutive group I victories at five different tracks over a period of only 11 weeks, all of them head-to-head slugfests, was a feat unheard of in Europe. Did the "Iron Horse of Ballydoyle" have any more to give after a grueling campaign, and in his first-ever attempt on dirt?

Right alongside Giant's Causeway was a dark chocolate-colored mountain of a horse, with a large splash of white on his face that resembled a tornado. A latecomer to the racing scene due to a stress fracture suffered the previous October, Tiznow was a rapidly building force who was fueled by competition. He had eyeballed eventual Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner Dixie Union, Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Commendable, and Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) winner Captain Steve, and none were able to stand up to this new bully on the block.

Tiznow's fight and spirit did not emerge overnight. It was born in him, with the same blood that flowed through the veins of his bulldog of a brother Budroyale, who had finished a courageous second in the previous year's Breeders' Cup Classic. The odds of full brothers bred in California, and by relatively obscure parents, making it to the Classic in back-to-back years were astronomical.

But here was Tiznow, ready to tackle the world. Unlike his brother, however, he had the muscle to go along with the grit. Budroyale had not yet emerged in the national spotlight when his dam, Cee's Song, gave birth to a massive 144-pound colt on March 12, 1997, at Harris Farms near Coalinga, Calif. Already 25 to 30 pounds heavier than the average foal, Tiznow was placed with a group of youngsters who played particularly hard. "It taught him not to be bullied," farm manager Dave McGlothlin said. "They all took turns beating on each other and he got used to doing things rough."

Farm trainer Per Antonsen said Tiznow was so strong and competitive he quickly emerged as the leader of the pack. "Dave put him in with a tough bunch to make sure he had horses who could stand up to him," he said.

The big colt wasn't much easier on the people trying to break him. "He was always fighting you," Antonsen said. "He'd bite and snap at you and buck. He was like a big bull, and was such a handful we had to give him extra work before we even took him to the track."

When Tiznow was turned over to trainer Jay Robbins the following year, Antonsen told him, "This is a big, tough boy." The veteran Robbins, with only eight or nine horses in his care, had to watch last year as Budroyale became a star after having been claimed from him in 1995 for $32,000.

Fast forward to Oct. 31, 2000, four days before the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup. Tiznow arrives at Churchill Downs and is placed in the stakes barn. He wants no part of being cooped up in his stall, and after being walked for 40 minutes and jogged once around the track, he refuses to get back in the stall. It takes some pushing and prodding to finally get him in. His coat is resplendent, with dapples peeking out from his neck and shoulders.

"Tomorrow, when we gallop him, I'm going to need an anchor to pull him up," said exercise rider Ramon Arciga. As predicted, Tiznow galloped like a wild horse the following day, with Arciga having to pull hard to restrain him.

Robbins knew he was ready, despite making his third start in 35 days. It was a lot to ask of a relatively inexperienced 3-year-old. After shipping to Louisiana and breaking the track record for 1 1/4 miles in the Super Derby (gr. I), Tiznow returned to California, and two weeks later had to slug it out with Captain Steve in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I). Now came the all-important decision for owners Michael Cooper and Cecilia Straub-Rubens: Do you put up a $360,000 supplementary fee to run your Cal-bred only 20 days later against the mighty Fusaichi Pegasus, Giant's Causeway, and 11 other top-class horses?

"The whole barn deserved the chance to see what this horse can do," Cooper said. "Chris (McCarron) gave me the thumbs up, the vet said the horse was doing great, and Jay said we ought to go, so it really was an easy decision."

But Robbins knew what he was asking of his colt, and despite outward confidence that he was making the right decision, the questions and doubts remained bottled up in his subconscious. After the Goodwood, as he lay in bed sleeping, his wife Sandy heard him talking in his sleep, repeating over and over, "20 days...20 days."

Now, those days were down to a precious few. The strong gallops continued. The colt's coat continued to shine. He became more focused and remarkably displayed all the signs of a horse itching for another fight. The young brute who had left a trail of fallen exercise riders behind him had turned into a seasoned pro, not only physically, but mentally as well.

Robbins was reminded one morning by a member of the press that the record of Cal-breds in the Breeders' Cup was 0-for-46. "I better call to see if they have a flight back tomorrow," he said. "Can we get our money back?"

Meanwhile, on the far end of the stable area, Giant's Causeway had settled into his new home, and when he made his long-awaited appearance the day before the race, it was quite odd seeing him being ponied to the track by none other than D. Wayne Lukas, who had last year's Classic winner Cat Thief primed for another big effort.

"Wait until they get my bill," said Lukas from atop the pony, as he led Giant's Causeway to the track. Lukas trains a few horses for Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier, who own Giant's Causeway, and he felt it was "the sporting thing to do." He had met with trainer Aidan O'Brien and filled in the young trainer on the shoeing process, the medication rules in Kentucky, and had introduced him to starter Roger Nagel.

After the colt's gallop, O'Brien dashed after Lukas, who told him Giant's Causeway "wasn't a bit concerned about this saddle horse, but I would definitely send a pony with him in the post parade. On the turns, he had a tendency to look at things in the infield, but he'll be better tomorrow."

The European press were glowing in their praise of Giant's Causeway's toughness and will to win. Adrian Beaumont of the International Racing Bureau said emphatically, "If you go eyeball to eyeball with him he will win."

O'Brien admitted the Classic would be a tough task for Giant's Causeway, but added, "If any horse can do it, he can. We've never seen a horse like this. Even though he's been running hard races every two to three weeks, he's still bigger and stronger now than he's ever been. He's 15 kilos (33 pounds) heavier than he was for his last race. He's an amazing horse."

Jockey Michael Kinane said, "He always seems to raise himself up for a fight. I've never ridden a horse like this. And I've never even gotten to the bottom of him."

Continued. . . .