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Updated on 09/15/2011 2:21PM
Tiznow makes a late move
ELMONT, N.Y. - For the second straight year, Tiznow has sneaked up on voters for Horse of the Year. Last year, he was not even among the most talked-about contenders until he won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. This year, having not won a race since March, and entering the Classic off two straight losses, he was only the fourth choice in the race, and a far longer shot to be Horse of the Year.
But in light of his tenacious, thrilling victory over Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee in Saturday's Classic at Belmont Park, Tiznow is getting a second look. While Point Given, who was retired in August, remains the front-runner to be named Horse of the Year, an informal survey of Eclipse Award voters on Sunday found plenty of sentiment for Tiznow.
Tiznow's victories in the Santa Anita Handicap and Breeders' Cup Classic mean that he won the biggest races for older horses in this country in the first half and second half of the year. Tiznow became the first horse to win the Classic twice, each time beating not only the best horses in this country, but an outstanding group of runners from Europe, too.
Point Given, who is a cinch to be named champion 3-year-old colt, was the dominant horse in this country until his retirement in August. He won five Grade 1 races this year to just two for Tiznow. And he won two-thirds of the Triple Crown after suffering his only loss this year in the Kentucky Derby. But Point Given never faced, let alone beat, older horses, and was the best of what now appears to be a substandard crop of 3-year-olds.
"I didn't realize, until I started looking, that Point Given had won so many Grade 1 races. I think they'll give it to Point Given," Jay Robbins, the trainer of Tiznow, said Monday morning.
Bob Baffert, the trainer of Point Given, said he thinks his colt should be Horse of the Year, "unless everybody completely forgot."
"I wouldn't trade any of his wins for Tiznow's," Baffert said Sunday morning. "He did a lot. He did what all horse owners and horse trainers want to win; you win the classics, the Travers, the Haskell. It's easy to forget those things on a day like yesterday. We don't."
Tiznow's victory in the Classic capped a sensational day of racing with the best horses in the world. European runners had a strong showing, led by Godolphin Racing, which nearly pulled off the unprecedented feat of winning the Turf and Classic. There was a festive mood in the crowd, particularly from the Irish, who cheered long and loud for Juvenile winner Johannesburg.
"It was a great day for racing. Moreover, it was a great day for New York," said D.G. Van Clief Jr., president of the Breeders' Cup, which dedicated Saturday's races to the memory of those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Tiznow was scheduled to fly home to California on Tuesday morning. Michael Cooper, who controls the partnership that owns Tiznow, on Monday said there was a chance Tiznow could race once more this year. That could come in the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles on the turf Dec. 1.
"If he handles the surface, it would help his value as a stallion," Robbins said. "But I know it's risky. If he loses, he could lose any chance he has of winning the big award."
Cooper said he "woke up giggling" Monday morning. "I've never had a more stressful, emotional 24 hours, other than when my first child was born," he said.
Cooper and Robbins rode a roller coaster of emotions over the past four months. Their lowest point came in the first week of July, when Tiznow's back troubles were not responding to treatment, and retirement was considered.
And as late as nine days before the Classic, Tiznow behaved so poorly before a workout at Santa Anita that Cooper at first feared Tiznow would refuse to work, and that his career might be over.
Now, Tiznow has placed himself as a candidate for Horse of the Year, and a top contender for the Eclipse Award as champion older horse. Even Bobby Frankel, who trains the top older horses Aptitude and Lido Palace, said he thought Tiznow should be the divisional champion. But Frankel said he thought Point Given should be Horse of the Year.
Several other divisional titles were decided or narrowed down to a few contenders Saturday. Johannesburg likely wrested the 2-year-old colt championship from previously unbeaten Officer by winning the Juvenile. Tempera beat all the major 2-year-old filly contenders in the Juvenile Fillies. Breeders' Cup winners Val Royal (Mile) and Fantastic Light (Turf) figure to be the finalists for the male turf championship, along with perhaps Senure, who missed the Breeders' Cup.
Banks Hill was a runaway winner of the Filly and Mare Turf, which probably will be enough to carry her to a championship over England's Legend, Janet, or Spook Express. With every elite sprinter in the Sprint, the victory by Squirtle Squirt will likely vault him past Caller One, Kona Gold, and Xtra Heat.
Less certain are titles for 3-year-old filly and older filly or mare. Unbridled Elaine, who won the Distaff, is now a top contender for champion 3-year-old filly, but the Distaff was her only major victory of the year. Is it enough for her to overtake Flute, who won the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes, or Exogenous, who also won two Grade 1 races and would have run in the Distaff had she not been injured moments before the race? The sprinter Xtra Heat also might get some support in this category.
Spain, second in the Distaff, finished best among older fillies and mares in the Distaff, but she did not win any major races this year. Those who did - such as Critical Eye, Miss Linda, Pompeii, and Tranquility Lake - all were well beaten in the Distaff, leaving voters with an unsatisfying choice.
Frankel has put himself far in front in the race for champion trainer, but the remarkable job Robbins did nursing Tiznow back to the top of his game should give him some support. And jockey Jerry Bailey, who this year set a single-season purse earnings record, added to his large lead with his victory on Squirtle Squirt.
In addition to Tiznow, most of the other Breeders' Cup winners will race next year. Unbridled Elaine could race once more this year, possibly in the Grade 3, $250,000 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 22. Tempera is heading to Godolphin Racing's winter quarters in Dubai, with her main goal next year the Kentucky Oaks. Val Royal will try to win the Mile again next year, trainer Julio Canani said.
Frankel said Squirtle Squirt's first big objective next year might be the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen in March. Banks Hill will return to France for the winter, but should be back here to race next year. Johannesburg returned to Ireland on Sunday, but will be pointed to next spring's Kentucky Derby, according to co-owner Michael Tabor.
Fantastic Light will be retired at the end of the year, but might make one more start in the Japan Cup, or in Hong Kong in December.
- additional reporting by David Grening
Horse of the Year Poll: .