12/06/2001 12:00AM

Tijiyr back to reassert his stature

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MIAMI - Tijiyr, whose ascent to the upper echelon of the handicap turf division was sidetracked by a chipped ankle earlier this season, will try to take a big step back toward the top when he faces 11 rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Tropical Turf Handicap. The 1 1/8-mile, Grade 3 Tropical Turf highlights the 12-race Grand Slam I program, which also includes the $100,000 My Charmer Handicap, the $100,000 Three Ring Stakes, and the $100,000 What a Pleasure Stakes.

Tijiyr was sidelined for four months after chipping his ankle in his third-place finish in Belmont Park's Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap on June 9. The Irish-bred Tijiyr began his career in Europe and won his first two U.S. starts after being sent to trainer Niall O'Callaghan last winter, including the Fair Grounds's Grade 2 Explosive Bid Handicap, in which he upset a strong field that included King Cugat.

Tijiyr has made one start since returning from his injury, finishing second in the Grade 3 River City Handicap on Nov. 11 at Churchill Downs.

"I was delighted with his effort in the River City," said O'Callaghan. "I could have run him in an allowance first time back, but he was doing well enough for us to go for the big money. My only concern is that he doesn't go back a bit after making his first start in a stakes."

Tijiyr will carry 117 pounds, including Jorge Chavez, in the Tropical Turf. That's one fewer than starting highweight Band Is Passing, who tops a five-horse local contingent that also includes Mr. Livingston, Unite's Big Red, Groomstick Stock's, and American Halo.

Band Is Passing finished in a dead heat for second in the 2000 Tropical Turf and has won just once in seven tries this year. His best efforts this year came last winter at Gulfstream, when he was second in both the Grade 2 Appleton and Grade 3 Canadian Turf handicaps

Tijiyr's main competition may come from another pair of Grade 1-placed rivals, Slew Valley and Spindrift. Slew Valley was third in the Sword Dancer after contesting the early pace with eventual winner With Anticipation. He was also second, beaten a half-length by King Cugat, in the Grade 2 Bowling Green.

Spindrift finished third in the 2000 Manhattan then was sidelined a year before finally returning to action in June. He exits the Grade 2 Knickerbocker Handicap, in which he finished fifth, a half-length behind the late-striding Crash Course, who is also among the key contenders in the Tropical Turf.

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