Flightline’s epic win in the Pacific Classic. Photo by Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire
By Ed Golden
ARCADIA, Calif.—Flightline, one of the greatest of all time or merely the proverbial flavor of the month?
The Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 5 at Keeneland could go a long way in answering a question on every racing aficionado’s mind: is the undefeated, untested Flightline the real deal or does he need to face tougher competition in order to join racing’s elite hierarchy?
Beyond a doubt the $6 million Classic at a mile and a quarter will be the $1 million son of Tapit’s definitive challenge in this, only his sixth start.
Flightline has never been strongly urged to run, only to gain a more advantageous position, and that but once in the Grade I Met Mile June 5 at Belmont Park.
“He kind of got shut off a little bit in that race,” pointed out renowned private clocker and bloodstock agent Gary Young, “and coming down the stretch, he looked the closest to average I’ve ever seen. In every other race, he looked outer world.
“In the Met Mile, (Flavien) Prat had to work on him down the stretch. He was dominant, but he had to ask him, and in hindsight, Speaker’s Corner who ran second hasn’t really flattered him since (with a second in the Nerud, fourth in the Pat O’Brien and seventh in the Ack Ack in three subsequent starts).
“I fully expected Flightline to be the winner that day, but the Classic is a much, much better field than he has ever faced.
“If it is his last race (before being retired to stud), it’s only fitting that he faces a field of this quality. Hypothetically, if he went to stud right now, he’d still command a lot of money and still be thought of as one of the best horses in the last 30 years.
“But the one knock everyone would say is, ‘Who did he beat?’ Between Life Is Good, Taiba and Epicenter in the Classic, I think he’s coming up against some pretty good horses.
“If he handles them as easily as he has other horses, he probably should go down as one of the best in our lifetime.
“Life Is Good’s last win (by 1 ¼ lengths as the favorite at five cents on the dollar against three rivals in the Woodward Stakes Oct. 1) ‘under steady urging’ was not as impressive as many of his other wins, and instead of trying to rate him (in the Classic), I think they’re going to let him run out of there a little more than they normally do.
“He and Flightline have always been a bit on the aggressive side, but I think Life Is Good would have his best chance if he went 46 and change (for the first half-mile), not 48, so I think they’re going to let him bounce out of there.
“With all due respect to the other horses in the race, I think Flightline, Epicenter and Taiba are the three most likely winners, because of how the race shapes up.
“I don’t think Flightline is going to let Life Is Good get away. I think he’s too much horse. The two most likely to come from off the pace would be the two three-year-olds (Santa Anita and Pennsylvania Derby winner Taiba and Travers winner Epicenter).
“I respect (Kentucky Derby winner) Rich Strike, I respect Hot Rod Charlie and Olympiad, but I think the two horses most likely to pick up the pieces would be the two top three-year-olds.”
Young, 61, has a vested interest in Taiba, as he was instrumental in selecting the son of Gun Runner for Saudi Arabia businessman Amr Zadan, bringing the princely sum of $1.7 million as a two-year-old. Taiba has won $1,236,200 to date.
“The horse never really lights it up in the morning,” Young said, alluding to his workout ethic, “but his work (Oct. 24, six furlongs in 1:11.40) was his best morning move ever, in my eyes.
“We’ll see what happens with Flightline after the Classic. Financially, it makes sense that he’ll go off to stud. They’re already running ads on television. Gun Runner (his sire and two-time Horse of the Year) was good at three and great at four, and when we bought Taiba, (trainer Steve) Asmussen said he was the closest thing he ever saw to Gun Runner.
“Hopefully, he replicates what Gun Runner did. If Flightline goes off to stud like some of the others in the Classic, I think Taiba could battle with Epicenter to be the best horse in North America next year.”
The pre-entered Classic field in alphabetical order: Cyberknife, Epicenter, Flightline, Happy Saver, Hot Rod Charlie, Life Is Good, Olympiad, Rich Strike and Taiba.