For Tiznow, a sobering thought: He may repeat as Horse of Year

Second straight victory in Classic fuel for backers, though `Point' close rival


October 29, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. - Jay Robbins never did slip Tiznow a mickey.

Robbins considered it - mixing vodka into the colt's feed - after he kept acting up during morning training. Tiznow kept stopping, spinning around, ducking to the rail and doing anything he could to delay his workout.

Vodka, Robbins thought, might calm the horse. Heck, he figured, it couldn't hurt; Robbins didn't know what else to do.

But one week ago, training at Belmont Park, Tiznow seemed to turn a corner. He began acting better, and Robbins put off his trip to the liquor store.

On Saturday at Belmont Park, a stone-cold-sober Tiznow won the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic for the second year in a row. And Tiznow, reigning Horse of the Year, propelled himself again into contention for American racing's highest honor. He could become the first since Cigar in 1995 and 1996 to become Horse of the Year two straight years.

"I think he's got a chance at it," said Robbins, Tiznow's soft-spoken trainer, after walking the colt yesterday under the shedrow of his Belmont barn.

Tiznow seemed no worse for wear after outrunning European star Sakhee down the Belmont stretch in front of a cheering crowd of 52,987. Tiznow's resurgence after Sakhee seemingly blew past answered one nagging question for Robbins: His horse is sound.

His antics in the morning had made Robbins wonder. It was almost as if Tiznow were saying: "I don't want to train. It hurts." The colt had started acting up this summer after returning from a back injury that had nearly ended his career.

Finally, Robbins said, he started telling Tiznow's exercise rider to let the horse, within reason, do whatever he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it. That seemed to appease Tiznow.

His jockey, Hall of Famer Chris McCarron, said he believes Tiznow is bored.

"Some horses are more intelligent than others," McCarron said. "Tiznow has a high level of intelligence. I think he's figured out that once he goes back to the barn, he's going in his stall, and it's boring in the barn."

Despite winning two Breeders' Cup Classics and two other Grade I stakes with Tiznow, McCarron said he still doesn't think the horse has shown him everything.

"He wins photos, but he obviously gives us all heart failure," McCarron said. "I don't know whether he's given me 95, 99 or 80 percent, but I know it's not 100.

"I can tell when a horse is fatigued after a race. But with Tiznow, I always feel like there's more there. I'm just longing for the day when he pulls a Secretariat and wins by 31."

That day may come. Michael Cooper, who owns the 4-year-old, said he plans on racing him next year.

Tiznow's competition for Horse of the Year will come from a 3-year-old, Point Given, retired with a tendon injury. Point Given's weak link is that he did not beat older horses. His strong point is that he won five Grade I stakes: Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers.

"He won the right races," said Bob Baffert, his trainer. "He wasn't just the horse of the month. He kept on running."

Voting for Horse of the Year and divisional championships will take place at year's end by turf writers, racing secretaries and employees of the Daily Racing Form.

Bobby Frankel said before the Breeders' Cup that if Aptitude, whom he trains, won the Classic, then Aptitude should be Horse of the Year. Yesterday, with Aptitude having finished eighth, Frankel said he believes Point Given should be Horse of the Year and that Tiznow should win the Eclipse Award for outstanding older horse.

Frankel was as gracious yesterday morning as he was gruff immediately after the Classic. He broke his long Breeders' Cup drought when Squirtle Squirt won the Sprint, but his five other entrants failed to win. (You emerged from the Juvenile Fillies with a fever, Frankel said.)

"Everybody's congratulating me, but I'm feeling like I was a failure," Frankel said. "I ran three favorites, and none of them hit the board. How can you feel good about that?"

The horse who impressed everyone was Xtra Heat, the Maryland filly who finished second in the Sprint at 17-1 odds against 13 tough and seasoned colts and geldings. One was Baffert's El Corredor, who finished 12th.

"She impressed the heck out of me," Baffert said of the Laurel-based Xtra Heat. "I didn't give her a chance. She is one fast hussy."

Kenneth Taylor, one of her owners, said he believes she deserves the Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old filly. She will also receive votes as top sprinter.

John Salzman, her trainer, said he may wheel her right back in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Nov. 17 at Laurel Park. The Grade I sprint could be a showdown between Maryland speedsters: Xtra Heat vs. Disco Rico, winner of the Lite The Fuse Stakes on Saturday at Laurel.

NOTES. Exogenous, who flipped over backward before the Breeders' Cup Distaff, continued to improve yesterday in her Belmont stall. Her trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, said she injured her brain when her head hit the track.

Her brain is swollen, and how much more it swells and how she copes with it will determine whether she survives, Schulhofer said.

"So far she's doing good," the trainer said. "She's eating hay, and she's drinking water. We're very optimistic." ...... Baffert said that Officer, who suffered his first defeat in the Juvenile, encountered a breathing problem (entrapped epiglottis) that compromised his performance. "Don't give up on him yet," Baffert said. ...... Grover G. "Bud" Delp, trainer of Include, seventh in the Classic, remained angry yesterday at John Velazquez, Include's jockey, for three reasons:

One, Velazquez failed to come by the barn, even after Delp had told Angel Cordero, Velazquez's agent, that he wanted to talk with the jockey about the horse. Two, Velazquez didn't follow Delp's instructions after they finally talked in the paddock. Three, Velazquez kept Include pinned on the rail throughout the Classic. And the rail, Delp said, "is the kiss of death at Belmont."

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