For America

The following story appears in this week’s issue of The Blood-Horse, October 29. 2011. TVG has put together a terrific video on Tiznow, with the focus on the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic, that will air Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. ET.

The year 2001 was not quite what Stanley Kubrick envisioned in his surreal odyssey into space. But that doesn’t mean the year was any less surreal, as evidenced by the tragedy of Sept. 11, a day that still resonates in the soul and gut of every American.

And on the 10th anniversary of that cataclysmic event, Thoroughbred racing also remembers—how the sport bonded as it had never bonded before, from America to Europe to the Middle East. And at a time when so many heroes surfaced in New York City, how one horse, in his own way, came to embody the indomitable spirit that had emerged from the smoldering ashes of lower Manhattan only seven weeks earlier. It was as if that spirit had manifested itself in the form of a magnificent Thoroughbred named Tiznow, who simply refused to be beaten when confronted by an Arab-owned, English-trained invader named Sakhee in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), America’s richest race.

Thoroughbred racing had always been confined to its own small world, safe and protected from the events that surround it. Individual stars have transcended the sport and reached out to touch mainstream America, but never before had the Sport of Kings been woven into the often-tattered fabric of history.

That was the storyline and setting of the 2001 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, held Oct. 27, some 12 miles from Ground Zero, at Belmont Park, where the surreal became the norm—where police dogs searched random automobiles entering the track parking lot; where military personnel armed with assault rifles were stationed throughout Belmont; where snipers, positioned on the roof, observed the crowd with high-powered binoculars.

But in the end, it was all about Tiznow, who saved the day for America. It was nothing short of a miracle that Tiznow even made it to the Classic, having won the race in a gut-wrenching photo over Irish invader Giant’s Causeway the year before, becoming the first California-bred to win the Classic. Three days after that race Tiznow’s majority owner, Cecilia Straub-Rubens, who had forced herself to attend, lost her battle with cancer.

Her final words to Sandy Robbins, wife of Tiznow’s trainer Jay Robbins, were: “Tell Jay to take care of my boy.”

But her request would not be easily fulfilled. Tiznow appeared to be heading for further glory after romping in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) early in 2001. But that all changed on the morning of April 12 following a six-furlong workout with jockey Chris McCarron aboard. After the saddle was removed, the colt just stood there and refused to walk. Robbins knew something was wrong. A nuclear scan revealed that one of the vertebrae was showing a good deal of heat. That was complicated by muscular problems. Robbins’ father, Jack, one of the foremost veterinarians in the country before his retirement, tried to figure out what was wrong.

“We consulted with other vets around the country,” Jay Robbins said, “and they had never seen anything like it. It hurt me to watch him; he could hardly move.”

Jack Robbins added, “No one thought he’d ever run again. He was so off behind, everyone was horrified. If someone had told me at that time this colt would win the Breeders’ Cup Classic again, I wouldn’t have believed it. Dr. (Rick) Arthur put him on a muscle relaxant and prescribed lots of time and rest.”

As the months went by, a return to the races was beginning to look hopeless, but Straub-Rubens’ partner, Michael Cooper, couldn’t help but think of the courage his longtime friend had shown by traveling to the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs in 2000 to see Tiznow run, and he was determined to give the colt every chance to make it back.

“After Tiznow won the Breeders’ Cup the way he did, and doing it for Mrs. Rubens, who was so ill at the time, how could I ever ask for anything more than that?” he said. “But after 20 years of disappointment in racing, it had all been such a mystical experience.”

Tiznow did make it back, returning to the East and finishing third in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont. Three days later the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers fell. With the airports shut down, Tiznow became stranded at Belmont, where one could still clearly see the deadly ashen cloud that hung over lower Manhattan and stretched across New York Harbor to New Jersey.
At the Belmont stable gate, a sign was tucked into the window of the booth showing the American flag, with the words: “Pray For America.”

Tiznow finally made it back to California, but when he could only finish third again in the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II) behind 39-1 Freedom Crest, there were major concerns in his camp that he may have lost his competitive spark. Robbins had put Tiznow on tranquilizers, and when he took him off the medication, he unleashed a terror.

The colt became obstinate and cantankerous, lashing out at his lead pony and refusing to train until he was good and ready. Other times he’d be jogging on the outside fence and suddenly just dart across the track to the inside fence.

“I was scared to death he was going to get someone hurt,” Robbins said. “He was doing all kinds of dumb things.” One morning it took 45 minutes on the track before McCarron could get him to work. Those antics continued at Belmont after he returned for the Classic. But he eventually settled into a normal routine and began to train in a professional manner.

Meanwhile, reports surfaced that many of the Europeans would not show up in the wake of 9/11. But Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O’Brien, who had his largest and strongest contingent ever, assured the Breeders’ Cup he’d be there and other Europeans followed.

The first indication that this would not be a normal Breeders’ Cup came Oct. 11 when Sheikh Mohammed’s private 747 jet, which had departed Stanstead Airport in England at 1:30 p.m., touched down at JFK Airport later that day. On board were three of Godolphin’s biggest stars, including the brilliant Sakhee, runaway winner of the group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Lucien Barriere and Juddmonte International Stakes.

Awaiting the trio upon their arrival at the Saudi Arabian cargo terminal were two FBI agents, four customs agents, and three carloads of Port Authority police. The horses were vanned to Belmont, joining the other Godolphin horses under the care of head assistant Tom Albertrani and the California contingent trained by Eoin Harty.

The main question was which race would Sakhee contest? It was assumed he would go for the Turf (gr. IT), with the globetrotting Fantastic Light headed for the Classic. But Godolphin decided to attempt to make history by winning the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup Classic with the same horse and in a span of only 20 days. A victory by Sakhee surely would make him “Horse of the World.”

At 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 22, an Air Transport International DC-8 taxied up to the same Saudi Arabian terminal at JFK. Veterinarian John Miller boarded the plane and took the blood on the seven Ballydoyle-trained horses arriving from Shannon Airport. The Ballydoyle contingent was believed to be the most expensive shipment of Thoroughbred racehorses in history. An insurance company appraised their value at $200 million, with dual classic winner Galileo alone valued at $65 million.

About an hour after the arrival of the Ballydoyle horses, an Air France 747 pulled up to the Air France terminal, carrying three horses—Banks Hill, Spring Oak, and Slew the Red, all trained by Andre Fabre in Chantilly.

This three-pronged European force would wind up winning an incredible $3,907,200 in Breeders’ Cup purse money.

As part of the opening ceremonies prior to the races, dozens of jockeys, accompanied by members of the New York police and fire departments, lined up, each holding the flag of his country. Following a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace,” Carl Dixon of the New York Police Department sang the National Anthem.

By the time the Classic was run, the Europeans had rattled off consecutive victories in the grade I Filly & Mare Turf (Banks Hill), Juvenile (Johannesburg), and Turf, in which they finished one-two with Fantastic Light and Milan. Now it was up to Sakhee or Galileo to deliver the coup de grace.

Walking to the holding barn, groom Ramon Arciga spoke to Tiznow with reassuring words. He said the colt pinned his ears and “gave me that look.” Arciga had seen that same look a year earlier and a wave of confidence came over him. “I said to myself, ‘We’re gonna do it.’ ”

 While walking to the track, Tiznow gave Robbins that same feeling when he uncharacteristically lashed back with his hind legs and almost nailed the security guard walking behind him.

As the field approached the quarter pole in the Classic, Albert the Great was trying to gut it out on the lead, with Tiznow right behind, but not threatening at this point. The all-too-familiar silks of Godolphin quickly emerged in the picture, as Sakhee came charging up on the outside to challenge. Tiznow seemed to be going nowhere between horses. After straightening into the stretch, Sakhee began to edge away—by a neck, then a half-length, and seemed on his way to certain victory.

McCarron felt he was beaten. Robbins felt he was beaten. Cooper was still hoping his miracle horse could pull out another miracle, but at this point he just wanted Tiznow to continue to battle. “When Sakhee went by him, I thought, ‘Keep going, boy; keep going. Show him you got guts, anyway.’ ”

Sakhee, with immortality a mere furlong away, reached back to deal the fatal blow. But then something happened; something racing fans had seen the year before. McCarron hit Tiznow once left-handed, and the colt gave one final desperate surge. Tiznow’s fire suddenly reignited, as if he were aware a European was again challenging America’s dominance on dirt.

Having thrust his nose in front of Sakhee on the wire, Tiznow became the first two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. And he did it by defeating the greatest international field ever assembled for a dirt race. His victims included the winners of the English Derby, Irish Derby, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and Irish Two Thousand Guineas, as well as two Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winners. Track announcer Tom Durkin said it all when he bellowed: “Tiznow wins it for America!”

In the stands Sandy Robbins was in tears as she hugged her husband. Cooper’s legs went numb and he couldn’t walk for several minutes. He also couldn’t help but think of his longtime partner and close friend, Cecilia Straub-Rubens.

“She was such a special lady and a special friend,” he said. “I wish she had been here to enjoy this. I think Tiz knew in spirit she was here, the way he came back and gutted it out right down on the line, kind of like the way she was, too. Who knows, it could have been Cee kicking him in the ass. I thought about her and thanked her. At least I know she went out with a big smile on her face.”

Sakhee’s jockey, Frankie Dettori, had nothing but praise for Tiznow, and tremendous admiration for his horse.

“He’s still a winner to me,” he said. “For him to run like he did first time on dirt and having run three weeks ago in Paris, he must be a superstar. Full credit to Tiznow. He knuckled down and got me. He has a great reputation and a head like a dinosaur.”

Back at the barn Tiznow immediately dove into a pile of alfalfa. Cooper called over to his trainer, “Hey, Robbins, you got the condition book. He’s ready to go again.” Tiznow was then treated to carrots, apples, and mints by his admiring family. McCarron showed up and wrapped his arms around Tiznow’s massive neck. “You are the man!” he said.

As Cooper departed, he told Arciga and groom Carlos Aguilar, “Good night, guys. Once again, wonderful job. I know it hasn’t been easy, but you did terrific. There will be Christmas again this year.”

Soon after the Breeders’ Cup, Bill Belichick, coach of the NFL’s New England Patriots, who were 5-3 at the time, was looking for something that would inspire his team. He showed them a tape of Tiznow’s Classic and told them the importance of the race, and impressed upon them how victory comes to those who want it the most. So, instead of watching game films the Patriots watched Tiznow battle back to turn certain defeat into victory. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year, which began one of the great dynasties in NFL history.

That December, Robbins received a Christmas card from Belichick, on which he wrote, “Thanks for the inspiration.” The following February, Belichick presented the Eclipse Award for leading older male to Cooper and Robbins.

Although not the powerful force he had been that winter and the previous fall, and despite his serious injuries, mental issues, and two uninspiring defeats before the Classic, Tiznow somehow was able to rise to the challenge.

Perhaps, then, an old English saying best describes his 2001 victory: “Spirit shall be the stouter, heart the bolder, courage the greater, as our might lessens.”


Leave a Comment:


Tissues in hand AGAIN!  This was so beautiful to read... I'm going to replay the video of this race just because I'm a glutton for punishment (in a good way of course!)  I'm so glad I got to see him this summer. He is such a wonderful horse with the sweetest nature, kindest eye and utmost patience in posing for pictures, getting his petting (and mints!!)  What a difference he was on the racetrack though... all fire and attitude.  Loved this Steve... thanks!

25 Oct 2011 2:45 PM

Extraordinaria historia, recuerdo muy bien esa victoria, de las demostraciones más grandes realizadas por un caballo de carreras en toda la historia.  Tiznow es un verdadero CAMPEON.

Felicidades señor Haskin.

25 Oct 2011 2:47 PM
Frank J.

Great article, Steve. One would have to be a robot not to get chills watching that race, I know I still do. Tiznow is one of the greatest and will always be one of my top 5 faves of all time!!

25 Oct 2011 3:00 PM

I saw him this summer on a tour, and before you go into his stall area, they play both his Breeders' Cup Classic races, and I swear he hears them and relives them, and is just as proud now as he was then!

25 Oct 2011 3:08 PM
Criminal Type

Sadly I just read Tizway is out of the Breeders cup with a suspensory injury.

25 Oct 2011 3:44 PM

  I own a small feed store and I have pictures of racehorses hanging on the walls.  One of the photos is of Tiznow winning the 2001 Breeder's Cup. Tiznow was one tough horse and I am so happy he has proven to be such a good sire.  I saw his sire and dam at Harris Farm (I live in California) and I believe the foal at her side at the time was his brother, Tizbud.

  Great article about a great horse!

25 Oct 2011 3:57 PM

The 2001 BCC was the greatest one ever run.  Such a stellar field and after 9/11 that race call still makes me cry and feel nothing but pride for what Tiznow showed in guts and determination.  What a horse!!!!  What a race!!!!

25 Oct 2011 3:57 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Tiznow was phenominal with back to back BC Classic wins at two different tracks in 2:00.75, and 2:00.62. It's a shame that Tizway isn't going to have the chance to follow in Dad's footsteps this year. I thought he had a pretty good chance of winning the Classic even if he wasn't my top pick. I always follow and root for Tiznow's boys and girls eventhough the chances are very slim that he'll produce one as good as he was. Speaking of this year's Classic- Ruler On Ice is my top pick for the win and Uncle Mo my second choice.

25 Oct 2011 4:06 PM

Steve, Tiznow, PERFECT !! Thank you !

25 Oct 2011 4:10 PM

I have long considered Tiznow one of my favorite thoroughbreds of all time.  His trainer, Jay Robbins, was/is a longtime family friend, and I was thrilled to see him enjoy the tremendous success of his colt, especially the back-to-back Classic wins.  This exceptional stallion is further proving his worth with his progeny and, fortunately, adding back some much needed durability and stamina to American horses.  

It is a shame his son, Tizway, won't have the chance to replicate one of his father's BC wins.

Kate Harper

25 Oct 2011 4:33 PM
Smoking Baby

 Steve, of all your amazing pieces of awesome writing this has always been far and away my favorite.  Thanks so much for revisiting.

25 Oct 2011 4:58 PM

Thank you, Steve, for the 'behind the scenes' of the 2001 BC.  It really brings to light what a significant and global sporting event the Breeder's Cup is when you describe the juggernauts of the horse racing world and their 747s pulling in with millions of dollars worth of high octane athletes ready to dominate the Americans.

What a surge from Tiznow when McCarron gave him the left whip!  Wow!  Such a big, beautiful stride on that horse.

25 Oct 2011 4:58 PM
Karen in Texas

That 2001 Classic was the most exciting race ever! Tiznow showing his heart and Chris McCarron riding him to perfection brought incredible emotion to the day's end. I remember Donna Barton attempting to interview Chris after the race, and he interrupted her with, "did he win?" For some reason that is what made me cry--Chris's complete focus on his job. I suspect Tiznow's two Classic wins will not be duplicated any time soon.

25 Oct 2011 5:14 PM

Steve, off topic, but what is going on this year? Last week I commented on how many big names are dropping out of the Breeder's Cup and that was before Twirling Candy and Tizway dropped out.  Do you believe all of these are injuries or do you think hyped horses are keeping their breeding values before they throw in a clunker to end their career?  Just seems like a lot of bad luck for top name horses if it is the former.  

25 Oct 2011 5:18 PM

THAT was beautiful!  But one has to commend the talent and extraordinary effort of Sakhee as well.  

How sad that Tizway won't have an opportunity now to run in the Classic...

25 Oct 2011 5:23 PM

I keep a few videos and links to videos of racing on my computers.  On particularly tough days I pick one and watch it a few times.  Tough wins.  Easy wins.  "That can't be true wins".  Forego.  Secretariat.  Ruffian.  Rachel Alexandra.  Dr. Fager.  Da Hoss.  Tiznow is the only horse with 2 links in my box.  I watch them and watch them and every time I think Giant's Causeway or Sakhee will get by him.  And then I watch Tiznow's ears and his eye and know, that whether the line was 5 strides or 5 furlongs away, his message is - thank you very much son, but this race belongs to me!

Thanks Steve!

25 Oct 2011 5:28 PM

Tiznow one of my favorite horses.

Quick story of the would of should of.

First Breeders cup I watch is the 2000 Breeders cup I bet $100.00 on Tiznow to win. We all know what happens.

Skip to 2001, I am in the Bellagio saying to myself I got my horse allready.

Get to the window make my bets however still being new to the sport I did not back up my bet properly.

I bet a $5.00 straight superfecta however I pull the ol change my mind at the window. I put Sakhee 1st Tiznow 2nd. Well we all know what happened.

I correctly picked the 3rd and 4th place horses that change of mind cost me approx $56,000.

Shame on me, good for Tiznow great horse great article.

Me,I learned a lesson on wagering if you like 2 horses don't be cheap.

Looking forward to next Saturday and smiling.

I will be in one of my favorite spots the Bellagio sports book betting the Breeders Cup.

Thanks Steve for the memories.  

25 Oct 2011 5:43 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Another unbelievably jolly good story by the equine master story teller. I love this story, and due to my male stubborness was somehow once again able to muster up the strength to keep the tears in my eyes welled up and ready to retreat, and keep myself from bawling like a baby. Once again I am reminded of why I am so proud to be a loyal Haskinite.

25 Oct 2011 6:09 PM

A great story beautifully written. I visited the great horse and his dignity and physical being made me humble to be in his presence. However, does anyone really believe that McCarron's lash with the whip made the difference? Watch the race again and oberve the horse. At the point that he appeared beaten he gives an almost invisible shake of head. He had decided he would not give in and with a tremendous effort of a thoroughbred heart he was not.

25 Oct 2011 7:05 PM

Thank you.  This is so beautiful, it makes me cry.  At the time I was only paying attention to the triple crown races and didn't even realize such a thing as the Breeders Cup existed.  Shame on me.  Thank goodness for your wonderful writing to bring it to life in such a way that I can feel it unfolding through your words.  Thank you!

25 Oct 2011 7:12 PM

I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I was at the Vets Lodge across the street from Churchill and to honor the race I sang an old Elvis song, " Tiznow, Forever! It happen again."

25 Oct 2011 7:22 PM
Mike Relva


Thanks for the great read.

25 Oct 2011 7:57 PM

I remember hearing about his lackluster 4 YO season, but I didn't know he was injured early on.  Thank you for the story as it is fun learning about the people involved.

When I watch the replay of the '01 race I get goosebumps right around 150 yards to go when Tiznow take that giant leap and puts his head in front of Sakhee that carries him through the wire.  Then of course I get chills on Durkin's timely assertion "and Tiznow wins it for America!"  

Amazing as how such a simple thing as a horse race can stir up such emotion.  I was too wrapped up in high school and was not introduced into horse racing until much later, but hearing his story has made me a huge fan and I continue to root for him through his offspring as my moniker shows.

Thanks again Steve for this detailed recanting of Tiznow's story!


25 Oct 2011 10:18 PM
Karen in Indiana

Thank you, Steve. Like Tiznow, you are one of a kind. :-)

Can you imagine the difference in European racing if something had happened to the plane with Galileo on it?

Wonder if we will have a Classic with So You Think, Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty & Havre De Grace being the only ones in it?

25 Oct 2011 10:31 PM
The Deacon

Well written and well said Steve. Tiznow was amazing, too incredible wins. Tizway out of Classic, another one bites the dust. Something is just wrong, every year we go through this. One, two, then five or six or drop get hurt and can't run in the Breeders Cup races. This just upsets me to no end. What is this 6 or 7 defections

now. How many more will we see in the next 10 days. I said it 2 months ago, don't all worked up about any horse because by November it's all gonna change. Hope this fine horse has a wonderful retirement, loved watching him.

Dr D: Good choice but I am going to wait until 5 minutes to post just to see who is running.

26 Oct 2011 2:47 AM

Thank you Steve for another inspiring article. One of my most favorites things in life is to read and reread your remarkable stories. You truly have a gift with the pen. As Dr. D said " I am a loyal Haskinite" you are like no other. The Classic this year will surely miss Tizway, his owner and trainor must be hurting big time. This sport has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows at times. His career was a good one though and I am glad that he will be retired to happy stud land:}

26 Oct 2011 5:58 AM
Rachel NH

"To The Patriot In All Of Us" is on Tiznow's BC baseball cap. What a horse.

26 Oct 2011 6:32 AM
Forbidden Apple


Thank you for allowing me to experience the beauty and power of Tiznow once again. I still remember the instant hair raising chills that went through me during the stretch battle. Tiznow's determination and huge heart will never be lost in my memories. The way he dug in and fought to the wire was magical. I am looking forward to watching one of his sons perform next year, his name is Slew.

26 Oct 2011 11:04 AM
Smoking Baby

 "To The Patriot In All Of Us"  I picked up one of those hats and gave it to one of my buddies who is a Patriots fan.  Now he's a racing fan as well and always notices when a winner is by Tiznow.  

26 Oct 2011 11:56 AM

wow. major goosebumps on this story. you are the master.

26 Oct 2011 12:57 PM

Only need one word . . .


26 Oct 2011 4:14 PM
Linda in Texas

Mr.Steve Haskin - Equine Historian Par Excellence Bar None. And Tiznow

equals you in his world of racing with his huge heart and love of winning.

Goosebumps,streaming tears,lumps in my throat for all the brave horses and those who love them so much. And Ms.Cecilia Straub-Rubens, God Bless and Thank You.  

I love airplanes and airports and worked at The San Antonio International Airport Tower

and i can only imagine the thrill of the Air Traffic Control Tower Personnel carefully and safely guiding the pilots in and down and watching all of those giant flying fortresses bringing so many magnificent and talented Thoroughbreds into New York at that time in our history.

Thank you Steve Haskin, i love the walks through racing that you take us all on. Awesome, just awesome.

And Thanks Tiznow. You are the man!

26 Oct 2011 8:07 PM

Just re-watched this yesterday...what a tight tight finish and man did the big horse fight. I remember watching that race live. Teary eyed!

27 Oct 2011 7:45 AM

Unbelievably moving! Thanks so much, Steve. I can't even see for the tears.

27 Oct 2011 5:35 PM
Paula Higgins

Thank you for this Steve. You mesh the story, the horse, the people and the era like no one else in journalism. You and Laura Hildebrand are in a class by yourselves. Just loved this story. I am off to research more on Tiznow. Also, loved your podcast with Lanny. Agreed with what you both said about Rick Dutrow.

27 Oct 2011 7:38 PM

What an amazing article.  As usual, Steve Haskin has woven an already amazing tale into a story that has all the elements -- touches the heart, breathes the excitment of an amazing race, can't wait to see what happens tale--laced with the magic that is Haskins.  

If this type of story could reach the public prior to our big races, they wouldn't help but catch horse racing fever and fall in love with the sport.  

Thanks Mr. Haskins for this special tale.  And thanks Tiznow for your courage and perserverance at a time when America needed you most.

27 Oct 2011 11:48 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, KentuckyDeb and everyone. This was one of the most memorable racing events ever, and for those who were not close to it, I'm glad I was able to share the experience.

28 Oct 2011 9:17 AM

Thank you, Steve, for a wonderful ride.  Again you took us into the nooks and crannies of the backside, and the challenges which were greater than any we might have guessed.

And thank you, Tiznow, for allowing us to share in one of the greatest BC Classics ever...and to burst with pride for America.

28 Oct 2011 2:48 PM

tiznow was a monster. me and a few friends used to call him the creature from the black lagoon. no disrepsect meant. he was just so, well, scary to be honest. tiznow's wins are the bc classic I remember most. from a european perspective it was hard to take, to come so close but boy two of the finest races you could ever wish to see. the quality horses beaten out of sight. let's hope for a tight finish and a real scrap this year.


28 Oct 2011 6:23 PM
Linda in Texas

Off Topic but Timely. So Steve Haskin allow me to say:

Congratulations to all the folks backing the Saint Louis Cardinals.

Awesome games. The 6th game was the wildest game filled with a miracle a minute that i in my many years of watching baseball have ever had the pleasure to watch.

The sportsmanship was super.

Congratulations Cardinals from

a Texas Ranger Fan.

29 Oct 2011 11:42 AM

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