10/29/2001 12:00AM

Classic: Tiznow by a whisker again

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The same stubbornness that Tiznow had been showing recently in his morning exercise served him at the most opportune time Saturday afternoon, when he outdueled Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee in a thrilling stretch drive to win the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, the highlight of the World Thoroughbred Championships at Belmont Park.

Tiznow, whose victory in last year's Classic secured the Horse of the Year title, became the first horse to win the Classic for the second straight year. He is the fifth horse to repeat in a Breeders' Cup race, joining Bayakoa, Da Hoss, Lure, and Miesque.

Tiznow won by a nose, in much the same fashion in which he won last year's Classic at Churchill Downs. He re-rallied in the final yards to prevail, again beating a European import. Last year, it was Giant's Causeway. This time, it was Sakhee.

"I really had my doubts that he could get back to Sakhee, but he's game, very game," said winning trainer Jay Robbins.

Robbins did a brilliant job adjusting to Tiznow. He first had to nurse the 4-year-old colt through a back injury that kept him out of action for six months. And then he had to yield to the colt's recent obstinate behavior. But Tiznow cooperated in recent days. He trained strongly in the final days leading up to the Classic.

"This is a feat very few people could have pulled off," winning rider Chris McCarron said, comparing Robbins to the late, legendary Charlie Whittingham.

Tiznow was timed in 2:00.62 for 1 1/4 miles on a fast main track. He was the fourth choice in the wagering and paid $15.80 for $2 to win to his backers in the crowd of 52,987, who had to bundle up on a windy afternoon.

Albert the Great, in a much-improved performance, finished third, 1 3/4 lengths behind Sakhee. Favored Aptitude was eighth in the field of 13.

Aptitude joined Flute and You as favorites trained by Bobby Frankel who finished out of the money. But Frankel, who entered the day 0 for 36 in the Breeders' Cup, did get his first victory, with Squirtle Squirt in the Sprint.

Frankel called the day "a disaster."

"But at least I won one," he said. "I ran three favorites, and none of them hit the board."

The Classic was run as darkness started to fall at Belmont Park. Albert the Great, showing his usual early speed, blasted out of the gate and was joined by Orientate, who led the field through fractions of 23.27 seconds for the opening quarter and 47.04 for the half-mile. Albert the Great was in front after six furlongs in 1:11.32, with Guided Tour, on the inside, and Tiznow, on the outside, now applying pressure.

As the field traveled around the far turn, Tiznow appeared ready to engulf the leaders at any time, but Sakhee, who had been on Tiznow's hip the entire way, moved strongly while wide, in the part of the track that seemed best all day. Aptitude was farther behind and widest of all, his trip compromised by breaking from post 12 in the field of 13.

"I had no [bleeping] chance from that post," said Jerry Bailey, who rode Aptitude. "I expected to lose ground on the first turn, but to be honest with you, on the second turn, if I had had some horse, I could have done a couple things differently and not been so wide."

Sakhee, moving fastest of all off the turn, gained the lead with a furlong remaining, as Albert the Great fought on valiantly on the rail, and Tiznow kept pace between horses. Albert the Great yielded with 100 yards to go, leaving Tiznow and Sakhee to fight it out.

Nick Zito, the trainer of Albert the Great, was gratified his horse ran well in his career finale.

"I'm happy he went out of a high note. That's all you can ask for," Zito said.

The victory was the eighth in 15 lifetime starts for Tiznow, whose last victory came in the Santa Anita Handicap in March. He remains the only California-bred to have won a Breeders' Cup race. Tiznow, by Cee's Tizzy out of the Seattle Song mare Cee's Song, was bred by Cecilia Straub-Rubens. She died just three days after Tiznow won last year's Classic.

Michael Cooper, a business partner of Straub-Rubens who is now the controlling owner of Tiznow, reiterated after the race that Tiznow likely would remain in training next year at age 5.

"He's a racehorse," Cooper said. "There'll be plenty of time to do other things."