Updated on 09/16/2011 7:46AM

The Patriots' four-legged muse

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Pure inspiration: Bill Belichick showed the Patriots the 2001 BC Classic, in which Tiznow beat Sakhee.

ARCADIA, Calif. - If you are D.G. Van Clief Jr., chairman of both the Breeders' Cup and the NTRA, you tend to get a lot of mail. Most of it is highly forgettable. But then, on very special days, some of it sounds like this:

Dec. 28, 2001

Dear Mr. Van Clief:

I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you sending the print of Tiznow's performance in this year's Breeders' Cup. As you know, we showed the team the race before one of our games earlier this month and, coincidence or not, have not lost a game since.

The picture has been displayed prominently on a wall outside our locker room and serves as a constant reminder of how great performances are determined through competition.

Thanks once again and all my best wishes for a Happy New Year and successful 2002.


Bill Belichick

Just to review, it was deep into the NFL season - the Patriots were 7-5 and spinning their wheels - when head coach Belichick got the idea to use a horse race for inspirational purposes. Bryan Cox, the veteran Patriot linebacker who just happens to be a Thoroughbred owner and good pal of jockey Mike Smith, suggested that the 2001 Breeders' Cup Classic might deliver such a message.

And so, as the Patriots prepared to meet the Cleveland Browns last Dec. 9, Belichick gathered the team in the film room, darkened the lights and cued up the tape. There on the screen unfolded the Oct. 27 Classic at Belmont Park, with Albert the Great ripping along his favorite surface, hotly pursued by a field that included Sakhee, Galileo, Aptitude, Macho Uno, and defending champ Tiznow.

Belichick stopped the tape at the head of the stretch and asked his players to guess the eventual winner. Cox knew, of course, but the coach told him not to give it away. At that stage, it was anybody's game, and that was Belichick's point. Tiznow, at the eighth-pole of the Classic, looked no better than third best. Even though the Patriots were no cinch to reach the playoffs as they entered their 13th game, let alone make the Super Bowl, they were still alive.

The rest is sports history. Tiznow was collared, rallied, and beat Sakhee by a nose. Last Sunday the Patriots were collared, rallied, and beat the Rams on the last play of the game, 20-17. ESPN's Chris Berman showed a clip of Tiznow's Classic during the Super Bowl pre-game show Sunday and asked the coach what caught his eye. "Pure inspiration" was Belichick's reply.

In a poll conducted by the NTRA, the 2001 Breeders' Cup Classic was voted the most memorable moment of the racing year. You will get no arguments from the Patriots, or their fans.

"I've never bet on a football game in my life, and I wasn't about to start yesterday," said Chris McCarron, Tiznow's rider. "It would have jinxed everything."

As a native of Dorcester, Mass., McCarron is one of those long-suffering Patriots fans, finally relieved of their agony. He was backing the Pats in the days of Babe Parilli, Gino Cappelletti, and Nick Buoniconti.

"I had about 20 people over to the house," McCarron said. "Everybody was rooting for the Patriots, except my agent, Scotty McClellan. I should have kicked him out and fired him."

But Vinatieri made the kick, and McClellan kept his job. Now, the NTRA should pay Belichick's way to the Eclipse Awards in Miami so that he can present the trophy to for the best older male of 2001. He could wear his Tiznow cap to the stage.

Who's that girl?

The game never stops, even for a few days of vacation, which is why it is important to catch up on what happened last week.

Most of it was predictable. Bobby Frankel won a major California race. Came Home came back with a rush. And apparently my wife was arrested in Georgia.

At least, that's what her friends thought when they picked up an early edition of the Feb. 2 New York Post. There was her smiling face, unmistakably Julie Krone, atop a news item headlined "Olga arrested."

This is not to poke fun at Olympic gold medalist Olga Korbut, the former Soviet gymnastic star, who was pinched for allegedly shoplifting a bag of groceries in an Atlanta suburb. Korbut's publicist called the incident a "ridiculous" misunderstanding, according to the Post.

Celebrity arrests make great news, of course. For some reason, though, the good folks at the Post pulled a picture of the wrong pixie to run with the story. I suppose diminutive female athletes all look alike to photo editors. True enough, Julie was an accomplished gymnast in her youth, but her professional life was spent balanced atop Thoroughbreds, not four-inch beams.

Besides, she has an alibi for the Atlanta heist. While Olga was "shopping" last Thursday, Julie was riding a peppy gray pony named Keo through knee-high grass on the slopes of the Kohala Coast, five times zones west of Georgia. And there were witnesses.