March 18, 2012
We’ve all heard the encouragement dictum, “if at first you don’t succeed, keep on trying ‘til you do succeed.” We don’t often see good examples of those words, but we sure did on Saturday. It all shot through under the radar on that afternoon at Oaklawn, but the 5-year-old mare Tiz Miz Sue gave us all a good example of determination as she finally overcame her frustration in Oaklawn races and captured the Azeri Stakes, doing it in fine style.
Lots has been expected of Tiz Miz Sue since she arrived on the racing scene. She is a daughter of a great stallion, Tiznow, and out of an Oaklawn stakes-winning mare, Sue’s Good News. Her family were all great performers during their careers and Tiz Miz Sue has been good, but the graded stakes win in the Azeri moves her into a new level and now she’ll get a chance to prove herself in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, where she’ll likely have to face the defending champion and 2011 Horse-of-the-Year, Havre de Grace.
Around here most fans are aware that not only have the last three runners to win Horse-of-the-Year honors been females, but that all three competed early in their championship campaigns in races at Oaklawn. Of course that includes Rachel Alexandra in 2009, Zenyatta one year later in 2010 and Havre de Grace last year. That makes the Apple Blossom Handicap appear all the more important for those anticipating a start in this year’s edition. Not only will it be significant that the reigning champion is in the field, but that a win in that race gives some filly or mare a leg up on the divisional title, signaling that she’s a threat for Horse-of-the-Year honors.
Tiz Miz Sue had tried winning at Oaklawn eight times prior to her Azeri win. She was favored in the recent Bayakoa Stakes, but couldn’t muster a good-enough rally and fell to archrival Absinthe Minded. Previously she had lost a heart-breaker to Absinthe Minded in the Pippin after a stretch-long rally in which Tiz Miz Sue had actually taken the lead in midstretch only to lose it when her rival came back in the final strides.
Trainer Steve Hobby, who also trained Sue’s Good News during her racing career, would not give up on this mare. Even though the public jumped all over Absinthe Minded and the invader and 2011 Fantasy winner, Joyful Victory, Hobby sent out his charge with regular rider Carlos Marquez in a race comprised of five high-quality fillies and mares. Although the field was small and high quality, they played perfectly for Tiz Miz Sue. Absinthe Minded and She’s All In went out and set an honest pace, while Joyful Victory tracked them closely from the outside. Marquez allowed every other competitor to battle out the race until they turned for home, then sent Tiz Miz Sue to the middle of the track. The talented mare simply ran them down, then away from them in the final strides. The temperature was hot and Tiz Miz Sue’s best races seem to come under those circumstances.
Twice last year she finished third in Grade I events in New York, the Ruffian Invitational and Personal Ensign at the notoriously warm Saratoga. Now we can imagine that Hobby will be hoping the warm weather continues until Friday the 13th of April, when he gets to engage Havre de Grace in the Apple Blossom. Tiz Miz Sue will try to avenge a narrow defeat she suffered last year on April 13 at Oaklawn, when she was edged by a neck in the Red Bud Stakes by Tidal Pool. She closed well on that day to just miss beating the favorite. She’ll get the chance now to beat another favorite in Havre de Grace and give Hobby and owners, Cresran, the chance to dream of a possible championship. If anyone deserved honors for not giving up on their horse in top competition, it should be them. They believed in their horse and earned the big win the old fashioned way, against the odds and on the racetrack.
Oaklawn and Hot Springs enjoyed the advantage of the beautiful weather conditions on Saturday. Better than 31,000 fans showed up for the races, the infield area was opened accompanied by abundant old-fashioned sunshine and folks got to continue the action later with the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival in the downtown section of town. Every hotel and condo room in town were taken for the day and large crowds were everywhere to be found. The non-believers were converted when they experienced Oaklawn and Hot Springs on a Spring Break weekend, especially when Oaklawn was also giving away a boat and track to one lucky fan. The only winners weren’t those on the racetrack. There was a town full of winners, many of which were the business community of the town, which specializes in Southern hospitality. Gas prices dropped nine cents a gallon overnight, making it even more enjoyable for those leaving today and thinking about returning sometime in the next month, while Oaklawn is still open for live racing. At Oaklawn you could add those who attended the early morning Dawn at Oaklawn event, which featured Smarty Jones’ trainer John Service and Racehorse Rehab director, Deb Adams, along with the ladies from National Park Center who were selling daffodils for the benefit of the American Cancer Society and the appearance of the one-time winningest jockey of all time, Laffit Pincay, Jr., who signed autographs for the benefit of the Backstretch Chaplaincy and Disabled Jockey Fund.
This was a day when lots of activities were going on around Hot Springs, including the Rebel Stakes, and they were all winners. This community is a lot like Tiz Miz Sue. Even when faced with difficult times, they keep firing back with great efforts and come out successful on the other side.
Tiz Miz Sue’s Azeri performance may have been dwarfed in the headlines by the Rebel Stakes, but it said a lot for the mare and gave a good lesson to all of us. Never give up, don’t ever give up. Keep firing your best shot and you can come out a winner. Her win may have flown under the radar, but the saga of Tiz Miz Sue was a great story about hope conquering all. Daffodils are the “flower of hope” and they were the perfect symbol of this past Saturday at Oaklawn and Hot Springs.