Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I)

(gr. I , 10f ,)

TIZNOW (B h, 122 lb) $2,480,400
Cee's Tizzy —Cee's Song , by Seattle Song
B—Cecilia Straub Rubens, CA.; O—Cooper, Michael and Straub-Rubens, Cecilia; T—Jay M. Robbins

Giant's Causeway (CH h, 122 lb) $954,000
Storm Cat —Mariah's Storm , by Rahy
B—Michael Tabor, KY.; O—Tabor, Michael B. and Magnier, Mrs. John; T—Aidan P. O'Brien

Captain Steve (CH h, 122 lb) $572,400
Fly So Free —Sparkling Delite , by Vice Regent
B—Roger Laubach, KY.; O—Michael E. Pegram; T—Bob Baffert

Margins: neck, 3¼, head. Others: Albert the Great 122($267,120) , Lemon Drop Kid 126($95,400) , Fusaichi Pegasus 122 , Cat Thief 126 , Vision and Verse 126 , Gander 126 , Pine Dance 122 , Dust On the Bottle 126 , Guided Tour 126 , Golden Missile 126 . Winning Jockey, Chris J. McCarron.

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 11¼4 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.”

Breeders’ Cup Day arrived with overcast skies and a damp chill in the air. Sandy Robbins showed up at the barn after arriving in Louisville the night before and was feeling more confident after reading her and Jay’s horoscopes the previous day. She had questioned her husband about some of the things he was doing with the horse, and he replied, “I’ve done it with him in the past, and it’s always worked.” The next day she read in Jay’s horoscope, “Follow your instincts and do what you usually do.” Her horoscope read, “Your advice may not be taken, but your presence has good karma.”

Fusaichi Pegasus was made the 6-5 favorite in his bid for Horse of the Year honors. Giant’s Causeway was 7-1, with Tiznow a generous 9-1. Boosters of Giant’s Causeway had to be happy when Kalanisi, who had fallen prey to the tiger on two occasions this year, captured the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) the race before. Walking to the track, Tiznow made a grand appearance when he stopped in his tracks to pose for photographers.

Tiznow and Giant’s Causeway drew next to each other, in posts 13 and 14, respectively, but moved in one after the scratch of Euchre. A stubborn Giant’s Causeway was blindfolded before he could be loaded in the gate. The field broke clearly, but a cavalry charge into the first turn took its toll on several horses, including Captain Steve, Golden Missile, and Cat Thief. Golden Missile would return with abrasions all over his legs. Fusaichi Pegasus also got roughed up a bit and never seemed to get into the race.

The main action was on the front end, where Tiznow and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Albert the Great were slugging it out through moderate fractions of :23.52, :47.55, and 1:12.01, with Giant’s Causeway stalking them in third. After a sharp fourth quarter in :24.07, Giant’s Causeway joined the fray. Albert the Great began giving way grudgingly, and the battle between the two warriors was on.

That brings us back to the beginning of the story. Here they were, two of the most rugged horses seen in America and Europe in years, battling to the wire, their courage and will to win tested for the first time by a foe of equal character and tenacity. Something had to give. Tiznow had the advantage of being in front, as Giant’s Causeway moved in for the kill approaching the furlong pole. Both horses reached back for everything they had. Still, neither would crack. Kinane went to switch sticks and lost his right reins. Giant’s Causeway was relentless and continued to battle on near-equal terms. But in the end, he was no match for Tiznow. The son of Cee’s Tizzy found himself back at Harris Farms, once again the feisty, precocious kid turning back another challenge and asserting his dominance.

The margin was a neck, and with a final quarter in :24.67, Tiznow completed the 11¼4 miles in 2:00.75. It was a gap of 31¼4 lengths back to Captain Steve, who just got up to snatch third from Albert the Great. Lemon Drop Kid, closer to the pace than expected, was fifth, with Fusaichi Pegasus sixth.

Cooper seemed choked up by the courage of his horse. “He’s got a heart as big as a basketball,” he said. He remembered where he and Robbins had come from, which made this all the more satisfying.

“Maybe this is our reward for running in all those $12,500 claimers in the ninth at Hollywood Park for 19 years,” Cooper said. “I know it sounds silly to say, but I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have a horse like this. There isn’t a moment that goes by that I don’t think of him. This is the most important thing to happen to me since my daughter was born 24 years ago.

“And I’m so happy for Cecilia Straub-Rubens (who bred both Tiznow and Budroyale). She’ll be celebrating her 84th birthday this December, and we’ve been doing this for 20 years, with me making the decisions, and a lot of bad ones. We haven’t been terribly lucky, and this lady has been nothing but supportive. One of my most memorable days in horse racing was when Unbridled won the Kentucky Derby, and Carl Nafzger was yelling to (92-year-old) Frances Genter, ‘You won the Kentucky Derby, Mrs. Genter.’ And I always thought, what a fabulous thing if we could do something like that. So, it was really special for me to be with her and to be in Kentucky and win a big race like this.”

Watching the race from his home in Vancouver, B.C., was Jeffrey Sengara, owner of Budroyale. Although his horse had failed in his attempt to write the great California Cinderella story, Tiznow’s victory brought back all the excitement and memories from the year before, and most of all the courage Budroyale showed that day.

“I’m absolutely overwhelmed,” Sengara said. “It was like watching Bud again. The fighting spirit of these two horses is unbelievable. I’m just so happy for Cecilia. Last year, she was at Gulfstream, and after the Classic, as we were leaving the track, she came over to us and tears were streaming down her face. She gave me the biggest hug and said, ‘You must be so proud. I’m so thrilled for you. I feel like he’s still mine.’ I told her he still was. Then, I asked myself, could I be that happy and congenial if I had lost a horse like that? I guess the racing gods have a way of noticing those kinds of things. Ironically, I said to her, ‘I hope (his brother) you have coming up is as good as he is.’ Here is a woman who loves her horses, and her unquestioned faith has been rewarded.”

Sengara said Budroyale is back in training and pointing for the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). “We had to put a muzzle on Bud, because if he had heard the result of the Classic, he would have been really ticked off. Can you imagine what it would be like if these two brothers, these two Rocky Balboas, go toe to toe in the Big ’Cap? That would be a race for the ages.”

The rewards Sengara spoke of now seem even greater for Cooper and Straub-Rubens, who turned down two offers for Tiznow, one for $4 million before the Goodwood and one for $5 million after the race. When Cooper’s mother heard what he turned down, she told him, “If he were my horse, his name would be Tiz Gone.”

For Robbins, his pride went beyond his horse. As he made his way on the track to greet Tiznow and McCarron, his first words were “First Cal-bred.”

McCarron, with his fourth Classic victory equaling the record of Pat Day and Jerry Bailey, paid tribute to Robbins and his crew for the job they have done with this horse. “When I first worked him he was headstrong and really tough to handle,” he said. “He was known for dropping his riders in the morning. To have him come this far forward behavior-wise, ability-wise, and fitness-wise is real testimony to Jay’s ability to get a horse to the races.”

As darkness fell on Churchill Downs, Tiznow returned to his stall after walking the shed and proceeded to attack his hay rack, wolf down mouthfuls of alfalfa and a bag of carrots. Occasionally, he’d lift his head and place it atop the hay rack and just stare at all the activity. Once, he even worked his head under his webbing, as if he wanted to come out and join in all the frivolity.

“What really amazed me today is how he handled all the commotion of the crowd,” Robbins said. “Four months ago he would have flipped out.”

And how was Robbins going to celebrate the victory? “Well, we’ll get a nice sandwich from Kroger’s and go pack our suitcases,” he said.

Between the fairy tale that unfolded this day at Churchill Downs, the emotions that ran wild, and the uncommon valor displayed by two courageous Thoroughbreds, it was difficult to find concise words to sum it all up. Perhaps Jeffrey Sengara came closest when he said, “It was a day of poetry.” b