08/04/2011 12:09PM

Saratoga: Team Tizway built on patience and trust

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer James Bond (left) and owner William Clifton Jr., here with Met Mile winner Tizway and jockey Rajiv Maragh, first teamed up in 1991. The Met Mile was Bond’s first Grade 1 win since 2002.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. − For a good five-year stretch beginning in 1996, there weren’t many important races run in New York − or most anyplace else − that didn’t include a James Bond-trained horse. Most of the time, the horse was owned in a partnership that included owner William Clifton Jr.

There was Will’s Way, who won the 1996 Travers and 1997 Whitney. Behrens, in 1997, won in succession the Gulfstream Park Handicap, Oaklawn Handicap, Massachusetts Handicap, and Suburban before getting beat a dirty nose by Victory Gallop in the Whitney. In 1998, Raffie’s Majesty − whom Clifton did not own − got beat a neck in the Jim Dandy and a head in the Travers. In 1999, Pleasant Breeze won the Meadowlands Cup and in 2000 the Saratoga Breeders’ Cup.

But for as much success as Bond and Clifton enjoyed, there have been some lean years as well. From 2003 to 2007, Bond won just one graded stakes, none for Clifton.

In today’s results-oriented, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, a parting of ways between owner and trainer would have seemed inevitable.

Not in this case.

“I thought it was more I wasn’t buying the horses of the same quality,” Clifton, 64, said in a recent phone interview from his home in Waco, Texas. “I didn’t think Jimmy was doing anything any different. I wasn’t critical of him. I come to the barn enough, I have enough friends in the industry − if I didn’t think I was being treated right or dealing with people with integrity, maybe I would have changed.”

“Bill knows my work ethic,” Bond, 53, said. “I would get down on myself and say, ‘Maybe I forgot how to train horses, because I can’t get the run out of these.’ He said, ‘Maybe the stock is not there.’ Bill is the first one to build you up, but he’s never tried to tear me down or second-guess me.”

So the relationship that began in 1991 with a New York-bred named Overloaded winning a $5,700 maiden special weight race at Finger Lakes continues 20 years later. And after their down time, Bond and Clifton have jumped back into the spotlight with Tizway, who in his last start won the Grade  1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park and who Saturday will try to stamp himself as more than a one-mile specialist in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.

The Met Mile win was Bond’s first in a Grade 1 since 2002.

Bond said it was invigorating to have the racing press seeking him out at his barn on Gridley Avenue − a quarter of a mile down the road from the Saratoga stablegate − and to be a guest on a national conference call as he was this week.

“It’s been very, very lonely not seeing you and quite a few people for quite a few years,” Bond said in his barn office.

Tizway is a link to the past for Bond and Clifton. He is son of Tiznow out of the unraced mare Bethany, who is a half-sister to Will’s Way.

“Will’s Way probably has the most heart of any horse I ever trained,” Bond said. “This horse here [Tizway] is about as close to him as you’re going to get.”

In the 1996 Travers, Will’s Way outlasted Preakness winner Louis Quatorze from the five-sixteenths pole to the wire to give Clifton his first Grade 1 win. The following year, Will’s Way outgamed Formal Gold to win the Whitney by a nose. Skip Away, a multiple Eclipse Award champion, was third in both races.

Clifton, who began racing Thoroughbreds primarily in the Midwest in the mid 1970s, owned Will’s Way in partnership with Anne and Donald Rudder, who raced under the moniker Rudlein Stable. Clifton and Don Rudder were business partners in a company called Equix Biomechanics, which does cardiovascular and motion analysis on horses.

Clifton used the company’s analysis to make purchases at auction, including Will’s Way, Behrens, and Pleasant Breeze. Clifton sold his share in the company in 2003, though he still uses its analysis today.

Bond and Clifton said one of the reasons for their slow period was that they got into the breeding business and bred a lot of mares to Behrens and Will’s Way, neither of whom turned out to be successful stallions.

“We had a lot of those things that couldn’t outrun me and you,” Bond said. “I know I got personally beat up. I had a lot of mares in foal to them, and Mr. Clifton did, too, and it really hurt our whole program. We were not buying as many at the sale. That was suicide.”

Bond said Clifton is very methodical when it comes to purchasing horses, so much so that he even keeps Bond’s marked-up catalogs to see how the horses Bond recommended Clifton buy turned out. Bond said he had Favorite Trick marked down as his favorite 2-year-old and Pleasantly Perfect as his favorite yearling.

Both won Horse of the Year titles.

“Pleasantly Perfect, we were under-bidders on him,” Bond said. “Favorite Trick, the only reason Bill didn’t buy him was because the Dosage Index was too high. He’s got a set of principles, but I never know when he’s going to bid on a horse.”

Clifton is still not fully back in the yearling market. In fact, the only 2-year-old he has is Synthesizer, a homebred who was entered to run Friday at Saratoga on the turf.

Tizway was a 2006 yearling purchase for $140,000. He made it to the races late in his 2-year-old season but didn’t win his first race until June of his 3-year-old season, having to go to Woodbine to do it. Bond said the horse had little, nagging issues that took him a while to straighten out. Bond said he raced Tizway at Woodbine because progeny of Tiznow had shown an affinity for the synthetic surface.

Tizway suffered condylar bruising and was away from the races for 10 months before returning in 2009.
He wasn’t quite up to the competition when fourth in the Whitney and third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2009. Last year, after running third in the Met Mile, Tizway fractured a wing bone in his right foot training toward the Whitney. The horse had the nerve removed from his foot.

He came back last fall and looked terrific winning the Grade 2 Kelso by five lengths, setting him up for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. But Tizway ran a very fast second quarter in the race and had nothing left in the stretch, finishing fifth.

“I was very disappointed with the Breeders’ Cup last year, and I told [Clifton] why we lost the race,” Bond said. “He was thinking maybe we weren’t good enough, and I told him that the second quarter of the race a horse can’t go 21-and-2 and finish, and basically, that’s what that horse did.”

Tizway began this year with a neck loss when third under regular rider Rajiv Maragh in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. He then finished third in the Charles Town Classic, which was run in the slop. Bond noted that Tizway runs in glue-on shoes and that those shoes are less effective on sloppy racetracks.

“He struggled, basically,” Bond said. “He ran better than I thought. On the straightaway [Maragh] tried picking him up. He kept falling down. He still gets beat 2 1/2 lengths by Duke of Mischief and horses I respect, and he can’t stand up. That’s why I have no question he’ll go a mile and an eighth.”

Tizway came out of the Charles Town Classic to win the Met Mile by 2 3/4 lengths, finishing in 1:32.90, the second-fastest time in the 118-year history of the race. Saturday, Tizway will attempt 1 1/8 miles against some of the best older horses in training.

“He proved he’s the best miler in New York, and we’re experimenting,” Clifton said. “Both Jimmy and the jockey [Maragh] think he can go further. I felt for over a year and half he’s a miler. They think he can do more. We’re going to give it a try. They’re more positive than I am.”

Once again, Clifton is putting his faith in his trainer. For much of the last 20 years, that has served him well.