This is the other side of the coin, examples of what can happen when patience meets talent; when maturity meets opportunity; when the seedling is permitted to blossom; when money isn’t everything.
Last year, Zenyatta, unraced at age two, unbeaten and already a champion, remained in training at age five and enjoyed a remarkable and prosperous, if just short of perfect, season.
The summer of 2011 has seen the rise of Tizway, a 6-year-old runaway train whose explosive victory in the Metropolitan Handicap in May came with a course record for a mile at Belmont Park, ground over which the best milers in history have run, and whose dominance of the best field of older horses assembled in the current season in the Whitney Handicap on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course established him as the frontrunner for both a divisional title and Horse of the Year.
Zenyatta and Tizway have little in common beyond the fact that they were permitted to mature fully and test the limits of their ability and realize inferred potential before being removed from training. Zenyatta’s owners believed the mare deserved an opportunity to win a Horse of the Year title, which she did. Tizway’s owner, William Clifton, Jr., persevered through a succession of nagging injuries that stood between Tizway, always an obviously talent horse, and the realization of his potential. Racehorses will make you wait. Clifton and trainer H. James Bond, the Breeders’ Cup Classic centered in the crosshairs, are now being rewarded for their patience.
Had the frustration that accompanied repeated setback prevailed over determination, this story would have taken an entirely different turn. Prior to this year, Tizway had both the pedigree, record, size and conformation to merit an opportunity at stud, particularly in New York, where the Vinery, Adena Springs and Spendthrift have relocated stallions in advance of the infusion of cash resultant from the soon-to-open casino at Aqueduct coupled with the nation’s most lucrative breeder incentive program and, despite a grim economy, the market for bloodstock is again showing signs of life. For the first time, stallions are being moved from Kentucky to New York. But though he will in time breed mares to Tizway, Bond saw more in the animal and his longtime client, though he admittedly saw his horse as a miler, had enjoyed more than a little success with his trainer over the years.
Since the beginning of his career, as Bond struggled to keep him sound, Tizway had been knocking on the door.
After having been sidelined for 10 months because of injury, a 4-year-old Tizway was third in the 2009 Jockey Club Gold Cup. He finished third in the 2010 Met Mile, a race after which he suffered yet another injury, fracturing a wing bone while training for the Whitney. Upon his return, Tizway won the mile Kelso Handicap and finished a pace-compromised fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. A great many successful sires have entered stud with less worthy racing credentials. But Bond took Tizway to Florida after the Breeders’ Cup to prepare for a 6-year-old campaign, a rare thing for a successful graded stakes-class horse nowadays.
Patience and a strong opinion have brought great reward in the form of two Grade 1 wins in races of great prestige and importance worth in total more than $1.2 million. Tizway himself is worth a great deal more now than he was prior to the Met Mile after which, Bond said, he heard from every important breeding farm in the country except WinStar, which stands his sire, Tiznow. Tizway has been syndicated, not a minor detail.
“He’s just a great horse,” Bond said after the Whitney. “He’s a fast horse. He’s a miler and now he’s shown us he can make two turns and carry it on. There’s one more big hurdle and that’s 1 ¼ miles. He’s the best miler in the country and he is the best older horse in the country. [Looking ahead] I’m as confident going 1 ¼ miles as I was going 1 1/8 miles coming here today.”
Were he not owned by Clifton and trained by Bond, Tizway would likely be a memory by now, a name appearing in pedigrees and sales catalogs; living in leisure. Sires do much for the breeders who own them and are important to the future. But racing is conducted in the present and it would have been indeed unfortunate had Tizway not been kept in training
Racing’s stars crowned in the spring of their third year are almost allowed to realize the potential that lives in maturity. Many do not complete the season before they are sent to stud in a storm of money. Top-class fillies may be kept in training until age four, seldom beyond. The sport’s leaders, meanwhile, lament the paucity of enduring stars.
Before Tizway, the last horse to win the Met Mile and Whitney in the same year was In Excess in 1991. A year earlier, Criminal Type won both. Eleven others have completed the Met Mile-Whitney double, a group that includes Carry Back, Kelso, Stymie, Devil Diver, Equipoise, and the fillies Gallorette and Black Maria. Tizway has entered elite company, names that endure the rust of time.
The sport’s enduring stars come not from the Triple Crown series, which has seen no horse succeed in 33 years, but from among those who withstand the rigors of time and training while permitted to develop into complete thoroughbreds mature of mind and muscle.
The Oct. 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup is next for Tizway. If distance was a question going into the Whitney it will be for all but Bond again so moving toward the 10-furlong Gold Cup.
“He’ll run all day,” Bond said on the morning after. “He’ll go two miles. He’s got a high cruising speed. He gets that head down. He’s sound. I can train him now. I could train him today.”
A Gold Cup victory, Bond said, will also give Tizway a commanding lead in the race toward Horse of the Year.
“When you win the Met in the time that he did it and the way that he did it, and he comes back with a pretty crushing race yesterday, if he can win the Gold Cup it’s going to take a really good horse to outshine him at the end of the year, as long as he stays together.”
Like wine, racehorses, too often used up prematurely, become better with age. Now and again, the best of both survive to be savored when fully mature. Often, these are the sweetest and most robust, the kind that are long remembered.
(Disclosure: Paul Moran has an ownership interest in an as yet unraced 2-year-old filly who is trained by H. James Bond.)
Originally posted on ESPN