08/07/2011 12:56PM

Tizway Steps Up


Tizway Saturday became the first member of the handicap division this year to put together two really major Grade 1 victories, following his sensational score in the Met Mile on Memorial Day with his decisive victory in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. The handicap division has been so weak and uninspiring, and expectations for this group had been lowered to such a point, that Tizway’s big double puts him in a position that almost feels like the one Spectacular Bid was in when he completed his undefeated 4-year-old campaign, and career, with his walkover in the 1980 Woodward.

Almost, I said. There is, of course, nothing that says another older male can’t pop up with an important Grade 1 double before this season is over, or that Tizway is a lock to win out this year. But in a division that has been saturated in mediocrity, an emphatically completed Met Mile-Whitney double this year feels HUGE, Spectacular Bid-like huge, and makes Tizway a true and legitimate divisional leader.

I liked Tizway quite a bit when he won the Met Mile, but I will admit I leaned against him Saturday because of the nine furlong distance. Tizway had nine opportunities in races beyond a mile in his career before the Whitney. While one of those outings included a tired, soundly beaten third in the 2009 Jockey Club Gold Cup (going 10 furlongs), the only one of those starts beyond a mile that Tizway actually won was a Polytrack race at Woodbine, which just so happened to be his fifth straight attempt in a nine furlong maiden race.

But Tizway sat up close early and certainly handled the distance Saturday, and anyone who would be inclined to give a big assist to the seemingly comfortable pace (24.31, 49.11, and 1:13.85) might be making a mistake. The “easy” pace sure didn’t help the two who volleyed for the early lead, Friend Or Foe and Morning Line, as they wound up a well-beaten fourth, and 11th and last, respectively. The pace also did not assist Tizway’s fellow pace stalkers, the rank Rodman, Mission Impazible, or Rail Trip as they finished eighth, sixth, and seventh, respectively. That Tizway was the only place player who was any sort of factor at the finish only underscores for me just how well he actually ran.

One other point: I thought it was cool that the Met Mile winner and the Suburban winner (Flat Out, who was easily second best) ran one-two in the Whitney. It was a pleasant flashback to the glory days when New York racing was king. It was also welcome at a time when the Breeders’ Cup has coldly turned its back on New York racing. No other racing circuit sacrificed more for the benefit of the Breeders’ Cup at the inception of the event than the NYRA did. While many might not choose to remember, it was New York’s fall races that were the sport’s defining championship events, long before the Breeders’ Cup came along. The one-two finish of the Whitey was a reminder of how important New York racing can still be, no matter what the Breeders’ Cup thinks.