September 10, 2009

Wuzthen --- Tiznow

As the years go by, I sometimes find it harder to remember recent events with the same clarity that I remember things from 30 or more years ago. I wanted to tell you the story of a brave California bred named Tiznow and the wonderful performance he put on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic eight or nine years ago. Unfortunately, I can not seem to organize all the facts as well as I would like, so I humbly ask for your patience with me as I try to piece this all together. OK, here is what my hazy memory recalls:

Tiznow was a late developing son of the speedy California sire Cee’s Tizzy and did not get to the races until the Spring of his three-year-old year. He did not register his first victory until the last day of May, but it was clear that Tiznow was flourishing around two turns and quickly graduated from maiden winner to graded stakes winner. He had a few game losses that Summer as he shot straight up into Grade 1 races. Improvement was happening week to week and by the Fall he was romping in the Super Derby and beating top West Coast horses in the Goodwood. It was obvious he was a horse on the rise and the Breeders' Cup Classic would be next.

Clear enough, but I also remember…

Defending Horse-of-the-Year Tiznow strutting his stuff as he made a mockery of perhaps the most important older race in California, the Big ‘Cap. The way he won at Santa Anita that day, I felt like it was a safe bet to put my money down on Tiznow for that year’s BC Classic even though it was still almost eight months away. A monkey wrench was thrown into the mix though in the form of a wrenched back. It would keep him away from the races for six months and put a big question mark on Tiznow’s readiness for the Classic. He returned to the races just seven weeks before the Breeders' Cup and in two races he looked competitive, but by no means, like the Tiznow we had come to know. Would he be up to the immense challenge of the Classic?

What I remember for sure was that Tiznow was respected, but not expected to win the race by the bettors. Odds of 9-1 or almost 7-1 sound right to me. I remember there was a hot-shot European who would transfer his best to the dirt that day. I am sure it was either the Irish champion Giant’s Causeway or the smashing winner of the recent Arc, Sakhee. For the life of me, I can not recall which one. I do clearly remember the top New Yorker, Albert the Great, was the main pace of the race and the highly regarded and stylish Fusaichi Pegasus was a clear favorite. No that’s not right, the favorite was Aptitude coming off a huge score in the Jockey Club. Either way, Tiznow would have to be at his best at Churchill Downs or Belmont Park. Darn memory!!!

Anyway, I remember the race clear as a bell. Tiznow relaxed outside of Albert the Great and pounced as they straightened out. I remember thinking the European horse on the outside was going to swoosh right on by. Giant’s Causeway or Sakhee looked so strong that day. That is when the true heart of Tiznow appeared for the world to see. He was not the fastest horse I have ever seen, but he was quite possibly the toughest. Tough as nails, Tiznow dug in and there was no way that European superstar was going to beat him. Giant’s Causeway, or Sakhee (I have already apologized for my shakiness on the facts, right?) carried their momentum as far as it would take them, but it was now all about the heart of the American champion. Fans went crazy at Churchill, or was it even crazier at Belmont, as Tiznow and Chris McCarron crossed the wire first in a thrilling photo finish.

Of course, I was just having some fun…

I do remember these two great years and the remarkably similar and equally admirable performances of the unheralded, Cal-bred Tiznow. No other horse has had what it takes to win two Breeders' Cup Classics. Tiznow turned the century for American horse racing in style as he proved to be a true champion thanks in large part to his enormous heart and will to win.