2000-2001: Tiznow's Two Classics

When Tiznow arrived at Churchill Downs for the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic, he came with a terrific season under his belt. Following a sixth place finish in his career debut, Tiznow never experienced a worse finish than third during his three-year-old season.

Along with runner up efforts in the Grade I Pacific Classic and Grade II Swaps Stakes, this California-bred won the Grade I Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, the Grade II Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita, and Grade III Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park. For his season finale, the son of Cee's Tizzy traveled to Churchill Downs, and the hope for the connections and fans was another Grade I to finish out the 2000 season.

Absent from the Triple Crown series earlier in the year (he debuted two weeks before the Kentucky Derby), Tiznow found himself racing under the Twin Spires for the first time. Up for grabs was not just one of the sport's biggest races, but also divisional honors. Tiznow's record put him in line to possibly be named the top three-year-old for the 2000 season, and a win in the Classic had Horse of the Year implications as well. A win in the main event would cap off what had been a great year for the colt.

Twelve rivals met the Jay Robbins trainee in the starting gate for the Classic. Going by the odds, his top opponents were the heavily favored Kentucky Derby champion Fusaichi Pegasus, 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid; Giant's Causeway, a multiple group stakes winner in Europe; and Albert the Great, who was coming off a win in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at a mile and a quarter, the same distance as the Classic.

Each of those four and Tiznow were the only horses below 10-1 in the wagering. Tiznow was around 9-1, not far from longshot territory. That meant if he won, the bettors who had him on their tickets were looking at a nice win payout.

Despite starting from post position twelve, Tiznow took little time getting to the front. He and Albert the Great led the field around Churchill Downs while producing a moderate pace. Giant's Causeway and Lemon Drop kid were right behind that pair, while Fusaichi Pegasus stayed a few lengths behind.

The field was fairly compact for much of the way, but as the stretch run began, the race was down to Albert the Great, Tiznow and Giant's Causeway. Tiznow and Chris McCarron had the lead with Albert the Great and Jorge Chavez to their inside. Giant's Causeway and Michael Kinane pursued on the outside. With a furlong left in the Classic, it was down to Tiznow and Giant's Causeway, neither horse giving an inch. Giant's Causeway ran with all his might to draw level with and overtake Tiznow, but the Cal-bred was just as determined. Somehow, he kept holding off Giant's Causeway by a tiny margin as they ran to the wire. In one of the most exciting finishes to the Classic, Tiznow capped off his sophomore season with a hard-fought and well-earned victory in the main event of Breeders' Cup XVII. And with that trophy came additional trophies for Three-Year-Old Male and Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards, making Tiznow the first Cal-bred horse to capture the latter honor.

Winning Horse of the Year already made Tiznow a legend in California racing, but he was back for more at four. In fact, the consistency was still there, as Tiznow never finished below third in a season that saw him take the Grade II San Fernando Stakes and Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. Following a third in the Grade II Goodwood Handicap during the Oak Tree meet, the bay colt headed to Belmont Park to defend his Classic title.

The field size was the same as it had been in 2000, but the faces were different except for one notable horse. Albert the Great was back for another chance at the Classic after a campaign that saw him display abundant consistency. He notched some more wins at Belmont, too, taking the Grade II Brooklyn and Suburban Handicaps, but he missed out on a repeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup when he finished fourth. The other principals were Aptitude, who dominated in the Jockey Club Gold Cup; Galileo, winner of the prestigious Group I Epsom and Irish Derbies along with the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes; and Sakhee, another multiple group stakes winner who recently took the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. In short, the Classic had some classy horses from across the globe.

Aptitude was made the chalk, his odds a little under 5-2. Galileo and Sakhee came next at over 3-1 and 9-2, respectively. Tiznow had shorter odds than he did a year ago, but was still at under 7-1. Albert the Great was a longshot at 13-1. Would one of the favorites prevail? Would Tiznow repeat as champion? Or would Albert the Great get the victory that eluded him in 2000?

Just weeks after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Classic got underway in upstate New York. Tiznow and McCarron exited post position ten, and they moved into a nice stalking spot in third. Orientate led for a few moments, but Albert the Great took over down the backstretch as Guided Tour slotted into second as Tiznow tracked in fourth. The defending champion looked determined, focused. He did not seem bothered around the far turn, and he began his charge for another Classic with Sakhee to the outside.

As the race reached the quarter pole, it was down to Albert the Great, Sakhee and Tiznow. Albert the Great held a narrow lead, but Sakhee was tough on the outside. Tiznow was not giving up, staying with Sakhee. Breeders' Cup announcer Tom Durkin, perhaps sensing who would be around at the finish, made note of the fact that Sakhee was the Arc de Triomphe winner while Tiznow reigned as the American Horse of the Year. Very little separated the two as they moved past Albert the Great. It was like a replay of the previous Classic, with Tiznow holding off a rival by just a little bit. Sakhee was gritty, and he battled with the courage of a lion, and he got close. But Tiznow again had more left at the finish, winning by a nose as Tom Durkin delivered one of the most iconic calls of his career, telling the world with a thundering voice that "Tiznow wins it for America!"

Along with scoring the biggest victory of his career, Tiznow took his place in racing history as the first two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic, and no one has matched that record since. That gave him Champion Older Male honors at the Eclipse Awards, and he became the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Horse of the Year after winning it in 2000. And he retired as the highest-earning Cal-bred of all time, holding the record for fourteen years.

On that autumn afternoon at Belmont Park, less than thirty miles from the site of one of the darkest days in American history, a four-year-old colt gave his native country an uplifting moment that was very much needed. He was tough, and he would not quit. Like so many American athletes before him, Tiznow found more on the big stage, and with it came one of the all-time great efforts by one of the all-time greatest Cal-breds in the saga that is the Breeders' Cup.

Entry added January 28, 2021 by AF.