There have been 36 winners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic since the inception of the series in 1984.
But only one Tiznow.
When you consider all of the great horses who have competed in the coveted Grade 1 stakes – champions such as Cigar, American Pharoah, Alysheba, and Curlin – the only one with the proper amount of class, durability, and longevity to win the race twice was Tiznow.
As a 3-year-old in 2000 and then again in 2001, the California-bred peaked at the right time and turned in a performance strong enough to beat the best horses in the world.
Yes, the world, because in both of his Breeders’ Cup wins, Tiznow edged rivals from Europe. In the second of the two, Tiznow courageously outdueled no less of a rival than Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee in the 2001 event at a tense Belmont Park less than two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
For those in attendance, it was an unforgettable day of racing with a performance that remains unrivaled.
“To be perfectly frank, I thought I was riding for second money after Sakhee went by me with so much momentum,” said jockey Chris McCarron, who rode Tiznow in both Breeders’ Cup wins. “But Tiznow outgamed him.”
Like so many champions before him, Tiznow’s first race was hardly memorable.
A homebred son of Cee’s Tizzy trained by Jay Robbins and owned by his breeder, Cecilia Straub-Rubens, and Mike Cooper under the banner of Cees Stable, Tiznow finished a nondescript sixth at 13.80-1 odds in his career debut at Santa Anita on April 22, 2000.
He was then an improved second and broke his maiden in his third try, scoring by an eye-opening 8 ½ lengths at the now-shuttered Hollywood Park.
The impressive maiden win inspired Robbins so much that he entered Tiznow in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap on July 1 and his faith was rewarded with a neck victory over the favored Dixie Union.
The natural progression was to the Grade 1 Swaps Stakes on July 23, also at Hollywood Park, and Tiznow settled for second behind Captain Steve.
Robbins continued to hand Tiznow bigger challenges as he opted to let the California-bred take on older horses in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Again, Tiznow turned in a superb performance when he finished second to Skimming by two lengths.
Returned to 3-year-old company, Tiznow ran in the Grade 1 Super Derby and won by six lengths. Two weeks later, he returned in the Grade 2 Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap and defeated Captain Steve by a half-length to become a leading contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
As the sport’s focus shifted to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup, Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus was still considered the top 3-year-old and was sent off as a 6-5 favorite, even though he had only raced once since the Preakness in May.
While Fusaichi Pegasus’ best day was six months earlier at Churchill Downs, Tiznow was in brilliant form and the battle between the two 3-year-olds proved to be a mismatch.
As Fusaichi Pegasus failed to fire and finished sixth and 1999 Classic winner Cat Thief faded to seventh in his bid for an encore win, the $4 million stakes turned into a stretch duel between Tiznow and Europe’s Giant’s Causeway, owned by Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier.
After Tiznow battled for the early lead with Albert the Great, the California-bred put away his fellow 3-year-old and then braced for a strong stretch challenge from Giant’s Causeway.
The European collared Tiznow at the eighth pole and for the length of that final furlong the two raced as a team, heads bobbing for the lead. But when McCarron needed it most, Tiznow dug down and never let Giant’s Causeway pass him, winning by a neck at 9.20-1 odds.
Tiznow was rewarded for his heroics with Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male honors, but sadly, Straub-Rubens didn't that enjoy that moment as she died two days after the Breeders’ Cup.
Returned to the races at four, Tiznow battled a back injury for much of the year.
He won two of five starts before the Breeders’ Cup, taking the Grade 2 San Fernardo Breeders’ Cup Stakes to start 2001 but he then finished second in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita. A victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap seemed to have him on the right track, but he headed to the sidelines for six months.
The comeback race for him was the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park, a dress rehearsal of sorts for the Breeders’ Cup. Tiznow was a rusty third behind Lido Palace and Albert the Great and then was third again, behind 39-1 longshot Freedom Crest and Skimming, in the Goodwood in his final Breeders’ Cup prep.
Tiznow’s training for the Breeders’ Cup was surely eventful as in one of his final workouts, he refused to start running for 30 minutes. Then, when finally motivated to motor, he reeled off a mile work in a blazing 1:35 3/5.
The setting for the 2001 Breeders’ Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 27 was unlike any other in the series’ history. The nation was still reeling from the despicable destruction of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, a horrific tragedy that could be seen from Belmont Park’s roof. In New York, there was a mix of tension, fear, anger, and courage as the city came together to rebuild, move forward, and never forget.
Three days before, President Bush famously threw out the first pitch for Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, and Belmont Park opened its gates for the Breeders’ Cup with a massive police presence. Outside the track there were SWAT team members and bomb-sniffing dogs. There were marksmen along with soldiers and police with assault rifles just below the track’s long roof at the pressbox level.
If there were concerns about holding the event in New York at that moment in time, they proved to be unfounded. The event went off smoothly and was therapeutic for those who called the surrounding area home.
The racing was stellar, and it was grand day for the European contingent with Banks Hill taking the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, Johannesburg prevailing in the Juvenile, and Fantastic Light proving best in the Turf.
Yet the best was saved for the final and climactic Breeders’ Cup race.
The surprise entrants were two Europeans, Godolphin’s Sakhee and Tabor and Magnier’s Galileo. Sakhee, who had won the Arc, seemed a logical choice for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but instead trainer Saeed bin Suroor opted to steal a page from the Giant’s Causeway playbook and tried to beat America’s best horses on their preferred surface, dirt.
The buzz around the track was that Sakhee was not handling a surface that was new to him, but that turned out to be nothing more than gossip.
This time, Tiznow was third early on as Orientate and Albert the Great helped carve out the early fractions. At the top of the stretch, Sakhee moved past Tiznow from the outside as the 2000 Classic winner seemed beaten as he battled between Sakhee and Albert the Great. Then, in one of the most remarkable stretch battles in Breeders’ Cup history, Tiznow came to life and surged to a small lead at the sixteenth pole and then held Sakhee at bay the rest of the way, winning by a slim, yet courageous nose.
In the California-bred’s final race, he registered a spectacular performance that belongs near the top of the Breeders’ Cup’s greatest races.
Finally, there was a back-to-back winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and nothing has changed since then.
There’s just one horse who has done that, and it’s Tiznow.
Note: This story was first published in November 2018 and has been updated.
- Tiznow raced 15 times, won eight times, added four seconds and two thirds, and earned $6,427,830.
- He was the leading earner among California-breds until he was passed by California Chrome.
- Tiznow was voted the champion older male of 2001.
- Late in the 2001 National Football League season, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick showed his team a video of Tiznow’s victory in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic after a loss. They did not lose a game after that, eventually winning the Super Bowl over the St. Louis Rams.