Breeders’ Cup Fantastic Finishes: 2001 Classic a Momentary Escape From Reality

Tiznow, center, battled bravely to outfinish European invader Sakhee, outside, and Albert the Great, inside, in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic. (Breeders’ Cup archive)

Every year on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, old wounds open as the country remembers a horrific day in U.S. history when a coordinated attack by al-Qaeda killed 2,977 people.

Terrorists flew planes into both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City as well as the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., while another hijacked plane, Flight 93, crashed in Shanksville, Pa., after it is believed the crew and passengers attempted to regain control of the airplane.

The tragic loss of life and the fear of additional attacks temporarily crippled much of the nation. Meanwhile, first responders rushed to the scenes in a heroic attempt to rescue survivors and save as many lives as possible.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed in 102 minutes between 8:46 a.m. ET when the first hijacked plane struck the north tower and 10:28 a.m., and shook the foundation of the country to its core.

Ordinary day-to-day life came to a halt. Airports were closed and concerts and sporting events canceled while the country struggled to come to grips with the horrific reality.

Slowly, however, New York City, began to return to some sense of normalcy. Sporting events resumed with Major League Baseball starting back up on Monday, Sept. 17. On Friday, Sept. 21, the first pro sporting event in New York City was held at Shea Stadium, where Mike Piazza’s two-run home run in the eighth inning propelled the New York Mets past the Atlanta Braves.

Two days later on Sept. 23 the NFL resumed its season, but metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, and armed guards served as a chilling reminder that things would never be the same.

The 2001 Breeders’ Cup World Championships were to be held Oct. 27 at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., about 12 miles from Ground Zero where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

According to BloodHorse, “Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships Day was unlike anything ever seen at a racetrack. Police dogs were used to search random automobiles entering the track parking lot. Soldiers were stationed throughout Belmont, armed with AKA assault rifles. Snipers were positioned on the roof, observing the crowd with high-powered binoculars. The whole scene was surreal.”

2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic

Date: Oct. 27, 2001

Venue: Belmont Park

1st: Tiznow

2nd: Sakhee

3rd: Albert the Great

Payouts: $15.80 to win, $7.20 to place, $5.60 to show; $2 exacta paid $140.50

Winning jockey: Chris McCarron

Winning trainer: Jay Robbins

Winning owner: Cees Stable

Winning breeder: Cecilia Straub Rubens (Calif.)

The $4 million Classic was, as usual, the signature race of the Breeders’ Cup card with the field for the 1 ¼-mile race drawing some especially strong international competition. Godolphin’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee joined Coolmore’s Irish and English Derby winner Galileo, Juddmonte Farms’ Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Aptitude, and defending Classic winner Tiznow among a group of 13 that entered the starting gate Oct. 27 at Belmont.

Tiznow’s path back to the Breeders’ Cup had been a bumpy one as he was sidelined after winning the Santa Anita Handicap by five lengths in March. The 4-year-old by Cee’s Tizzy was off in his hind end. A nuclear scan showed showed heat in a vertebra and he had some muscular issues as well.

Trainer Jay Robbins' father, Jack, who had been one of the foremost veterinarians in the country before his retirement, was called in to consult along with Dr. Rick Arthur and several other veterinarians around the country.

“No one thought he’d ever run again,” Jack Robbins said after the Breeders’ Cup. “He was so off behind, everyone was horrified.”

Given plenty of time and rest, Tiznow returned to light exercise in May and steadily improved until he was able to gallop. Tiznow ran a somewhat disappointing third in both the Woodward Stakes in September and Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap Oct. 7, and he had become very difficult to handle while training in the mornings.

After careful consideration, Tiznow’s connections decided to ship him east for a repeat bid in the Classic at Belmont. Once there, he remained a handful during morning exercise for trainer Jay Robbins and exercise rider Ramon Arciga leading into the 1 ¼-mile race, while Sakhee was training exceptionally well for Tom Albertrani.

When the gates for the 2001 Classic snapped open, Aptitude was the 2.35-1 favorite from post-position 12 while Galileo was the second choice at 3.35-1 odds, and Sakhee the third betting choice at 4.80-1. Defending Horse of the Year Tiznow was the fourth choice at 6.90-1 and he settled into third early under Chris McCarron behind Orientate and Albert the Great.

Sakhee also found a good position tucked in behind the leaders in sixth, just behind Galileo, on a card that had been dominated by European Invaders Banks Hill (Filly and Mare Turf), Johannesburg (Juvenile), and Fantastic Light (Turf).

Albert the Great seized command entering the stretch with Tiznow launching his bid and Sakhee gaining momentum on his outside. Albert the Great fought gamely in early stretch, but Sakhee started pulling away while Tiznow, a massive, menacing figure between the two, pinned his ears back, went after Sakhee, and simply would not be denied in the final strides.

The thrilling finish would go down as one of the best in Breeders’ Cup history, and it provided New York with a brief escape from a harrowing new reality.

In the words of racecaller Tom Durkin: “On the outside Sakhee … Tiznow fights on! Here’s the wire … desperately close … Tiznow wins it for America!”

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