11/01/2001 12:00AM

Even Tiznow would need his best

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Tiznow fans woke up last Sunday morning, refreshed and clear-eyed, still savoring their dream from the night before. The dream was vivid, almost real. The big horse won the Breeders' Cup Classic for the second year in a row, this time beating the winner of Europe's greatest race.

What's that? It really happened? No way, man. No way.

If Tiznow really did win the Classic - for the second straight year - then he deserves to be ranked among the greatest California-bred racehorses of all time. It's too bad he can't pop right back on Saturday in the $250,000 California Cup Classic, because this is the day that celebrates the best that the Golden State has to offer.

"Maybe I should run him," cracked Jay Robbins, Tiznow's Cal-bred trainer. "After all, Baffert is running Officer."

Yes, but Tiznow worked a lot harder at the World Thoroughbred Championships than Officer, and Officer has a long way to go before he can even carry Tiznow's cooler. As the reigning king of California - foaled and raised at Harris Farm, not far from the cotton fields of the great Central Valley - Tiznow certainly would be a welcome sight on Saturday. Robbins will satisfy the demand for Tiznow's presence at the Cal Cup by strolling him through the paddock gardens and around the walking ring. Bring a camera.

A Cal Cup Classic with Tiznow would be almost too much to ask. Such a horse outgrows his roots and requires a larger stage. The Cal Cup is a grand local event, but does Pacino play summer stock? Does the Big Unit throw batting practice?

If a champion such as Tiznow were to show up on Cal Cup day, he would require a challenge worthy of his merit. It might take some mental excavation, but a field of dreams could be assembled from California's finest horseflesh. The conditions are 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, level weights instead of a handicap, and they'd all better come with their best nine-furlong race.

Tiznow, in fact, is not a nine-furlong horse. He has won three and lost three this year, and all three of those losses have come at 1 1/8 miles. To contend in this dream heat, he would need to revert to his Goodwood Handicap of 2000, in which he and Captain Steve clawed at each other in one of the year's best confrontations.

Best Pal, a foal of 1988, was bumped by Tiznow from the top of the all-time Cal-bred money winners. Winning a $4 million race two years in a row will do that. But if Best Pal showed up for the Dream Classic with a repeat of his 1992 Oaklawn Park Handicap at nine furlongs, Tiznow would be in definite trouble, no matter what.

Here are the others Tiznow must be measured against:

* Ancient Title was the token Californian from the remarkable foal crop of 1970 that included Secretariat, Forego, Dahlia, Mr. Prospector, and Allez France. Some token. A son of Gummo, racing for the family of William and Ethel Kirkland and trained by Keith Stucki, he was still winning major stakes at the age of 8. Wind him up and he could do nine furlongs with the very best, as he proved by traveling across the country to win the 1975 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga under 128 pounds.

* Crystal Water, a son of Windy Sands bred and owned by Beaumont's Connie Ring, came up one muddy racetrack short of a national championship in the fall of 1977: He couldn't handle the going in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

His finest races that year were at 10 furlongs and beyond. He remains the only horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Oak Tree Invitational on grass. But it was his back-to-back nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby and Hollywood Derby wins the year before that truly put Crystal Water on the map. Roger Clapp withheld his colt from the Triple Crown grind, which is why he was such a good 4-year-old.

* Flying Paster, another son of Gummo, dominated his California peers at both 2 and 3. He was bred and owned by Ben and Georgia Ridder, who raised their horses in well-irrigated high desert region around Murietta. Gordon Campbell, of Western Canada, was his trainer. Flying Paster might have been the best 3-year-old in America in 1979 were it not for the towering presence of Spectacular Bid.

The following year, when Spectacular Bid campaigned in Southern California, Flying Paster was suddenly the underdog in his own backyard. His best race in four losses to Spectacular Bid was the nine-furlong San Fernando Stakes, in which they both carried 126 pounds. Flying Paster was lapped on Spectacular Bid inside the eighth pole before going down by 1 1/2 lengths.

* Hill Rise was the best horse George Pope Jr. ever bred, which is saying a lot, since he also bred J.O. Tobin, Hill Clown, and Mysterious. But it was Hill Rise who forced Northern Dancer into a record 2:00 clocking in the 1964 Kentucky Derby, losing by only a neck. It was Hill Rise who came back as a 4-year-old to win the Santa Anita Handicap. And it was Hill Rise, trained by Bill Finnegan, who was just as good at age 5 when he carried 125 pounds and beat Bold Bidder in the San Antonio Handicap, while running nine furlongs in 1:47. Just for good measure, Hill Rise campaigned in England during the summer of 1966 and left as the topweighted miler.

* Native Diver, a son of Imbros who was bred and owned by L.K. Shapiro, was an earlier version of Tiznow, only gelded, sickle-hocked and a whole lot crazier. With his white blaze and rolling white eye, Native Diver was a horse to fear at any distance and at any track anywhere in California. Buster Millerick, his tobacco-spitting trainer, called Native Diver the best horse anybody ever trained. Three straight Hollywood Gold Cups, a world-record seven furlongs, and weight loads often cresting 130 pounds provided plenty of backing for Millerick's opinion. Native Diver's best nine-furlong race turned out to be the last of his life when, at the age of 8, he carried 130 pounds to win the 1967 Del Mar Handicap in a track-record-equaling 1:46.60. So there.

* Snow Chief, born in Buellton, began his training at Caliente racetrack, where Mel Stute used to send his babies. It was not long, however, before the show was on the road. Snow Chief was a small, nearly black son of Reflected Glory who defied both his roots and his pedigree to become the Eclipse champion 3-year-old of 1986, when he won the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Jersey Derby for owners Carl Grinstead and Ben Rochelle. Three of those races were at nine furlongs. Pick any one of them, but the best may have been his Santa Anita Derby, when he romped by six lengths and left Ferdinand, among others, far behind.

* Swaps, a foal of 1952, was California's first and only Horse of the Year until Tiznow came along. As a product of the Rex Ellsworth-Mesh Tenney school of breeding, training, and all-around management, Swaps stands at the top of a list of their Cal-breds that includes Terrang, Candy Spots, Olden Times, and Prove It. If they got together, though, they'd probably give Swaps the ball. His victory over Nashua in the 1955 Kentucky Derby was validated, and then some, by his continued domination of races in Chicago and California over the ensuing year. In a career of 25 starts, Swaps ran nine furlongs only twice. His Santa Anita Derby was an effortless stroll against outclassed punching bags. The following year, during his dismantling of the Hollywood season, Swaps carried 130 pounds to win the American Handicap in a world record 1:46.80.

* Quicken Tree, the great stayer, is buried beneath a stand of palms not far from the Santa Anita quarter pole. Saturday's Cal Cup Classic runners would be wise to nod as they pass. Tall and leggy, with high white socks setting off a light copper coat, Quicken Tree had a finishing kick that took him to victories in the Santa Anita Handicap, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and a memorable dead heat with Fiddle Isle at the end of the greatest San Juan Capistrano Handicap ever run. Lou Rowan bred Quicken Tree at his Summit Lake Farm and raced him in partnership with Wheelock Whitney. Wisely, they let Clyde Turk do the training. And yes, Quicken Tree could gear down to nine furlongs when needed. Ask anyone who saw him give Fiddle Isle four pounds and a beating in the 1968 Del Mar Handicap, while equalling the world record in the bargain.