In Classic, Tiznow rises to occasion

He out-duels Sakhee

`Heat' 2nd in Sprint

October 28, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. - Amid the eerie presence of sharpshooters on the roof and stone-faced policemen brandishing submachine guns and grenade launchers, the best horses from Europe met the best horses from America yesterday in the 18th annual Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park.

The Europeans and the Americans won four races each, but the Americans took the big one. For the second year in a row, the courageous Tiznow captured the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic with a thrilling stretch duel with one of Europe's top horses.

Last year, Tiznow held off a gallant stretch drive by the Ireland-based Giant's Causeway. Yesterday, Tiznow spotted Sakhee, the Arab-owned turf star, a half-length in the stretch before digging deep into the Belmont dirt and snatching a dramatic nose victory.

"I don't have a good enough vocabulary to describe his resolve," said jockey Chris McCarron of his mount, the power-packed Tiznow. "He is absolutely awesome."

As McCarron responded to questions in the post-race interview room, a thin man in street clothes climbed onto the stand and began strangling McCarron. The man was Frankie Dettori, the freshly showered Italian jockey, and the scene was in fun. Dettori rode Sakhee.

"Full credit to Tiznow," Dettori said. "He fought really hard. My horse gave me everything. He didn't have anything else to give me."

The kidding and analysis were a welcome conclusion to a fabulous day of racing conducted about 20 miles from New York City, where terrorist attacks last month felled the World Trade Center. The extraordinary security was in response to the attacks and the fear of more attacks at an international event such as the Breeders' Cup.

A crowd of 52,987 attended the races at spacious Belmont Park on a chilly, windy afternoon. They witnessed the fall of a budding star, as the undefeated and highly touted Officer faded to fifth in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

They witnessed a spectacular performance by a filly against males, as the Maryland-based Xtra Heat out-footed the fastest horses in the world and then displayed true grit in holding on for second in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.

They witnessed Bobby Frankel, the Hall of Fame trainer, finally win a Breeders' Cup race after 38 tries, as Squirtle Squirt, his speedy 3-year-old colt, overcame Xtra Heat in the final strides of the Sprint. Frankel's other five starters, all highly regarded, petered out.

And they witnessed international racing at its finest, as European-owned horses captured the Turf, Filly and Mare Turf, Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, and Americans prevailed in the Distaff, Sprint, Mile and Classic.

After winning the Mile with Val Royal, the California-based trainer, Julio Canani, waved the American flag in the winner's circle. After watching the Ireland-based Johannesburg upset America's best young horses in the Juvenile, Irish partisans flooded onto the track, singing and waving Irish flags.

But the moment that stole everyone's breath was the Classic stretch showdown between Tiznow, North America's reigning Horse of the Year, and Sakhee, one of Europe's top three horses and, arguably, one of the top three horses in the world.

They clashed after Tiznow broke cleanly from the 10 post and settled into third behind the dueling leaders Orientate and Albert the Great. Sakhee raced in mid-pack. As they turned for home in the 1 1/4 -mile race, McCarron urged Tiznow, but got little, and Dettori urged Sakhee, and got a lot.

Sakhee zoomed past Tiznow in the upper stretch and claimed the lead. It looked as if he would draw off to an astounding triumph as he did three weeks ago in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

"I pushed his button, but I didn't get a feeling of acceleration that I'm used to with him," McCarron said. "But when Sakhee got to my hip, Tiznow saw him before I did, and I felt it then. I thought, `Oh, good.' He's always ready to go when the competition gets to him."

Tiznow took off after Sakhee, gaining inches with every stride. With all eyes locked on the two warriors, Tiznow overcame Sakhee in the shadow of the wire by the slimmest of margins.

The bettors' fourth choice, Tiznow paid $15.80 to win after stopping the timer at just over two minutes (2:00.62). The exacta with Sakhee second paid $140.50. The trifecta with Albert the Great third paid $1,341. And the superfecta with the long shot Macho Uno fourth paid $24,496.

Include, the Maryland-bred based at Laurel Park, finished seventh after a frustrating trip along the rail. He never got a chance to run, said his jockey John Velazquez. His trainer, Grover G. "Bud" Delp, wasn't pleased.

"Congratulations to the winner," Delp said. "McCarron rode a great race. He put his horse in position to win. That never happened with my horse. With the way he broke, he should have been sitting fifth. But he was back in 10th with no possible chance to maneuver. It's discouraging."

Aptitude, the favorite, suffered from his outside post position. Breaking from Post 12, he languished wide and finished a lackluster eighth.

Frankel, his trainer, had nothing to say. In fact, he said, "I ain't saying nothing."

But the day rose above the utterance of one angry American. The racing was exciting. The sportsmanship was laudable. And everyone thrived despite the security and the fear of more terrorist attacks.

"We're going to beat this thing," said Dettori, the Italian jockey. "The only thing we can do is carry on and do our jobs, be proud of it, and make this a better world to live in."

The winners

Distaff: Unbridled Elaine

Juvenile Fillies: Tempera

Mile: Val Royal

Sprint: Squirtle Squirt

Filly/Mare Turf: Banks Hill

Juvenile: Johannesburg

Turf: Fantastic Light

Classic: Tiznow

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