02/19/2002 12:00AM

Tiznow a sweet inspiration

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Although Tiznow failed to repeat as Horse of the Year, he did win an Eclipse Award as the champion older horse of 2001, becoming the first former 3-year-old champion to win an older horse title since Skip Away in 1997 and 1998.

Point Given was named Horse of the Year on Monday night at the annual Eclipse Awards dinner, but it was Tiznow whose videos seemed to draw the most reaction from those in attendance at the black-tie affair. His stirring victory in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park, when he re-rallied to beat Sakhee, was an ideal coda to his career, and his tumultuous 2001 campaign.

Tiznow entered 2001 off his first Breeders' Cup Classic victory, at Churchill Downs. And he picked up right where he left off, winning the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes on Jan. 13 at Santa Anita.

But in a performance that would foreshadow a similar outing in the fall, Tiznow was defeated in Santa Anita's Strub Stakes on Feb. 3, losing by two lengths to Wooden Phone while never at any point seeming to try his best.

Trainer Jay Robbins, who was attuned to every minor imperfection in Tiznow's condition, tweaked the amount of Lasix Tiznow received for the Santa Anita Handicap, and the Tiznow of old resurfaced in that March 3 race. He rolled to a five-length victory over Wooden Phone, and was clearly the front-runner for another Horse of the Year title.

But Tiznow would not race again for six months. He suffered from a nagging back injury that curtailed his training from April through June. By early July, Robbins and majority owner Mike Cooper thought they might have to retire Tiznow, because he did not appear to be responding to treatment.

Shortly before leaving for Del Mar in July, however, Tiznow suddenly began to train with renewed enthusiasm, his back problems alleviated. He never took a backward step in his training in August, and finally returned to the races on Sept. 8, in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.

Tiznow could manage to finish only third in that race, but Robbins was deeply encouraged. Tiznow lost by only 1 1/2 lengths to Lido Palace and Albert the Great, both of whom had been racing regularly during the summer and had raced well at Belmont Park previously.

Tiznow returned to Santa Anita, for the Oct. 7 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap, in which he was the even-money favorite. But Tiznow could manage to finish only third in that race, again racing one-paced, as he did in the Strub.

That race, however, served its purpose. Tiznow had two starts in preparation for the Breeders' Cup Classic. More important, he trained sharply all week at Belmont Park.

Still, there were doubts over whether he could win the Classic again. The field was dotted with stars from the United States and Europe. Tiznow was 6-1.

His performance that day will go down as one of the most indelible in Breeders' Cup history. Passed at mid-stretch by Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee, Tiznow bravely re-rallied in the final yards under regular jockey Chris McCarron to win by a nose.

Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, showed Tiznow's race to his players in early December, using it to inspire a team that was just 7-5 at the time. His never-give-up message hit home. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. And on Monday night, Belichick presented the Eclipse Award for champion older horse to Cooper.

Tiznow was bred in California by the late Cecilia Straub-Rubens - who died just days after the 2000 Breeders' Cup - and in 2001 he was owned by her children, and Cooper, her long-time business manager. Tiznow was retired at the end of last year, and entered stud in Kentucky as a partnership of Taylor Made Farm and WinStar Farm.