10/03/2001 11:00PM

Countdown to the Cup: The Classic (10/4)

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One year ago, Tiznow was coming off a victory in the Super Derby and was preparing for the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap on just two weeks' rest. His trainer, Jay Robbins, was fretting constantly, concerned that the ambitious schedule he had mapped out for Tiznow would take a toll.

Robbins would have pulled the plug on his plan at the first sign of distress, but Tiznow never wavered. He won the Goodwood, then three weeks later captured the Breeders' Cup Classic, completing a late-season hat trick that propelled Tiznow to two Eclipse Awards, including Horse of the Year.

Now, as Tiznow prepares for Saturday's $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, Robbins says he is finding the pressure being ratcheted up anew. Tiznow will be making only his second start since returning from a layoff caused by a back injury. He is the defending Horse of the Year. And he has to face trainer Bobby Frankel, whose front-running Skimming is the one to catch in the Goodwood.

"There's more pressure this year," Robbins said. "He [Tiznow] is more notable this year than last year at this time. And the fact that he had that physical discomfort earlier this year, that made things more stressful.

"All indications are that he's as good as he was a year ago," Robbins added. "Skimming's going to be tough to beat, unless we change our style and grab Skimming early. And I don't know that we want to do that, when our ultimate goal is the Breeders' Cup."

The shadow of the ubiquitous Frankel haunts rival trainers on both coasts this weekend in the final round of preps for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27 at Belmont Park. The other major race with Classic implications is Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, in which Frankel will send out the vastly improved Aptitude and longshot Sumitas. Others in the Gold Cup include the Nick Zito-trained duo of Albert the Great and A P Valentine.

"We're trying to stop the Frankel Express," Zito said from Belmont Park.

Tiznow was absent for six months this summer because of a sore back. He won the Santa Anita Handicap in March, and did not return until last month's Woodward Stakes, in which he finished third to the Frankel-trained winner, Lido Palace.

"I think he physically looks better than he did going into the Woodward," Robbins said this week. "He's put on weight. He's brighter. I think the Woodward seemed to sharpen him up."

The Goodwood, though, is a means to an end. "If our ultimate goal is the Breeders' Cup, running here is the best approach to that, and that is our ultimate goal," said Michael Cooper, Tiznow's co-owner.

With that in mind, Robbins said Tiznow needs to run well in the Goodwood, but does not necessarily have to win, in order to go on and attempt to defend his title in the Classic.

"Skimming is going to be a very difficult horse to beat if he transfers his Del Mar form," Robbins said Skimming is 4 for 4 at Del Mar and is coming off his second consecutive victory in the Pacific Classic "He doesn't have to beat Skimming, but he has to beat the rest of them."

Five months ago, Robbins did not even know if Tiznow would race again. He had soreness in his back that seemed to move from his lower vertebrae to his muscles. "If you made an analogy to a human, you'd say he tweaked his back," Robbins said.

Robbins used hot packs on Tiznow's back and added muscle relaxants when the soreness showed up in the muscles. In June, Tiznow was still not comfortable, and Robbins feared the colt would have to be retired. But he slowly improved, and by the time Robbins went to Del Mar for the summer, Tiznow was training sharply again.

Frankel said Skimming could go to the Breeders' Cup with a strong performance in the Goodwood. He is especially eager to run Skimming in the Classic should the track come up muddy.

Meanwhile, Aptitude, according to Frankel, "has developed a lot physically." He has thrived on eastern tracks. The trainer said he is proud that Aptitude "is the only one standing from the Derby last year."

Aptitude was second in last year's Kentucky Derby, behind Fusaichi Pegasus. Frankel said that of all the prospects for the Classic, "Tiznow is the one I think has the best chance to beat Aptitude."

In other Classic developments:

*In Great Britain on Wednesday, both Fantastic Light and Galileo had workouts on all-weather surfaces as they prepare for their main-track debuts in the Classic. Following the works, according to The Racing Post, the betting outfit Corals raised Galileo's future price from 3-1 to 7-2, and made Fantastic Light the 11-4 favorite.

*Frankel said owner John Amerman will wait through at least the weekend to decide whether to supplement Lido Palace to the Classic for $800,000. Frankel believes it is a bad bet.

*A decision on the Classic status of Broken Vow, who just missed in last week's Meadowlands Cup, will not be made until next week, according to trainer H. Graham Motion. "We're going to wait, like everyone else, and see what happens this weekend," Motion said.