07/09/2008 12:00AM

Unconventional methods led Tizdejavu to turf


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - There's no doubt that trainer Greg Fox comes from a slightly different position than most horse trainers. Fox spent most of his working life as an equine veterinarian, and it's the rare vet who makes the jump to training. Moreover, Fox - who has been a head trainer three years now - brings an outsider's perspective to the training game.

He utilizes tools like E-Trakka, an Australian-made device that can be attached to a horse and monitors its heart rate while tracking the animal's running speed at various points during a workout by means of a global positioning system. Fox trains off a farm situated next to the Thoroughbred Training Center outside Lexington, Ky., and on the farm there is a smallish field through which Fox has cut out and manicured a 4 1/2-furlong loop over which the occasional horse will train.

It was onto this turf loop that Fox sent a 3-year-old named Tizdejavu for several training sessions this past spring. The colt had raced only on Polytrack, and as a son of Tiznow was not obviously bred to relish the lawn.

"He trained out there a few times, and what he was doing was really impressive," Fox said. "He was very comfortable and his stride seemed to be longer."

So, Fox took the next step and breezed Tizdejavu over the Keeneland turf course: The E-Trakka system lit up.

"He came home his final quarter in 23" seconds, Fox said. "I'd never seen a horse do that working with the dogs up."

Then, Tizdejavu went out and confirmed what he'd been showing his connections in the morning, scoring a 21-1 upset on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill in the American Turf Stakes. That race was run on a boggy course, but Tizdejavu came back on firmer going June 14 with a dominant four-length victory in the Grade 2 Jefferson Cup, also at Churchill. Those two races figure to make Tizdejavu a solid favorite Saturday at Arlington in the American Derby, a prep for the Grade 1 Secretariat, and the best of three graded grass stakes on a 12-race card.

Tizdejavu was one of eight 3-year-olds entered Wednesday in the Grade 2 American Derby. The race includes Irish invader Great War Eagle and French shipper Blue Exit, as well as Boss Laffite, Ablaze With Spirit, and the locally based pair of Prime Realestate and Sr. Henry.

Tizdejavu will try to cement a spot in next month's Secretariat and should be difficult to beat even on a turf course of greater dimensions than the Churchill oval over which he has recently thrived.

Tizdejavu is co-owned by Michael Cooper, who campaigned Tiznow himself. Tiznow was one of the top racehorses of recent generations and has been a success at stud, too, but Tiznow progeny are better known for dirt and synthetic-track racing. Fox believes, however, that "the best Tiznows haven't even gotten a chance on turf, and that kind of skews his stats." Fox had another Tiznow colt, Slew's Tizzy, who also demonstrated grass ability at age 3.

Tizdejavu raced over the winter at Turfway and showed talent all along, but Fox felt there was more to the horse than he was showing in his races. Garrett Gomez suggested as much after Tizdejavu finished second in a Keeneland Polytrack race.

Gomez "said that he didn't like the surface that much," Fox said. "I was a little surprised."

Even more surprising - the surface Tizdejavu really needed was grass.

Difficult year for Howard

In his best seasons, Neil Howard would have trained six stakes winners by this time of year. This season, however, Howard has sent out only six winners of any kind. Howard's 6-for-85 record is startling, considering his barn is among the best-respected outfits in the sport. But these things happen.

"You take it as it comes," Howard said Wednesday afternoon. "It's not like you lock the door Friday and come back Monday. You got to keep your wits about you and take care of them every day. Just go back the next day and do it again."

Howard's stable has 31 second- and third-place finishers to go with those six winners.

"We're in a little drought, but all in all, our horses have been running pretty good," he said.

Corrupt has been turning in solid performances all year and scored one of Howard's 2008 wins when he overcame a slow pace and traffic to win a Churchill Downs allowance race. Saturday, he will try for his first stakes win since February 2007 in the Arlington Handicap - and there are not many horses to conquer.

A field of just six was entered in the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Handicap, with Cosmonaut the morning-line favorite over Stream Cat. Corrupt, however, has a chance to improve making his first start beyond nine furlongs.

"He seems like a horse that has a lot of constitution and stamina," Howard said. "We have every reason to believe he can do it."

Distorted Reality, Tiger Woodman, and Yates Black Cat also were entered.

The Modesty Handicap drew almost twice as many horses, with 11 in the 1 1/16-mile grass race. The Modesty has no defined favorite, with Communique the tepid 3-1 choice over 7-2 Barbette on Arlington's morning line. The others in the race are Royal Leah, On Safari, Labar, Demisemiquaver, Ballymore Lady, Quiet Queen, Kiss with a Twist, Ciao, and Lemon Chiffon.