Laser-focused Flightline entrancing the crowd in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. (Courtney Snow/Past The Wire)
Hollywood ending for the horse of the century
By Ben Baugh
PALM BEACH, Fla.—Impressive would be an understatement.
Flightline’s 4-year-old campaign was the stuff that legends are made of; and not since the development of the NASA X-43 has the world witnessed such a brilliant display of power and speed.
Flightline earned plaudits as outstanding older male and Horse of the Year at the 52nd edition of the Eclipse Awards Dinner at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla.
The 4-year-old son of Tapit made only three starts in 2022, but they were dominant victories, winning his races by a combined 33 ½-lengths. And like a hypersonic aircraft, although not quite as fast as 10 times the speed of sound, Flightline stamped himself the best of his generation, racing toward immortality. Campaigned by the partnership of Hronis Racing LLC, Siena Farm LLC, Summer Wind Equine LLC, West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing, LLC, Flightline was conditioned by John Sadler, and ridden by jockey Flavien Prat in all six of his lifetime starts.
“We had a campaign mapped out to win the biggest races in 2022,” said Sadler. “And the Metropolitan Mile is a stallion making race. So, we went to New York; and he dominated. The Pacific Classic is the biggest race in California and he dominated. And he dominated the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was so good that he didn’t need a lot of prep races.”
Flightline was purchased at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga Yearling Sale by West Point Thoroughbreds for $1 million.
“David Ingordo and Bill Farish were involved with the horse, it was a natural,” said Terry Finley, West Point Thoroughbreds founder and president. “It’s easy now to say that he had something, but I kind of remember he had that certain air about him. I know there are a lot of horses that sell for a lot of money, but he’s the reason that we spend a lot of money at the sales.”
The bay colt drew comparisons to the 1973 Triple Crown winner, the incomparable Secretariat, defining a year that will live in perpetuity. Bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Equine, Flightline’s ascension to the top of the racing world began when he broke his maiden during his sophomore campaign, winning a 6-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita authoritatively by 13 1/4-lenghts, serving as a harbinger of what was to come.
“You always dream of having a top-end horse,” said Finley. “The more that we kind of got into it, he kept indicating to us that he was a top-level horse, but they have to do it. This is a game where you can talk and promote all you want, but you have to do it on the racetrack and that’s why we all love it. As my good friend Steve Asmussen said, ‘We have the finish line and that separates everybody.”
Flightline’s next start was no less impressive, this time an allowance score, winning by 12 ¾-lengths, cementing his place as a horse to watch. However, it was the last start of his 3-year-old campaign that served as an acid test, a victory in the 7-furlong Grade One Runhappy Malibu Stakes in Del Mar, scoring another double-digit victory, this time winning by 11 ½-lengths. The superstar in the making was managed brilliantly by his conditioner.
“It was just to be a good steward,” said Sadler. “We had the horse, and it was just making good decisions every step of the way.”
It appeared that winning by daylight had been commonplace for Flightline, suggesting that his 4-year-old campaign would be as equally impressive. And the horse that was quickly capturing the nation’s imagination, took his talent east for his 4-year-old debut, stretching out to a mile in the Grade One Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park. And although his double-digit win streak came to an end, he still won by daylight, this time by a 6-length margin.
A return to his homebase found him in another route contest, this time in the 1 ¼-miles Grade One TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar, and it was a race for the ages as Flightline’s riveting penultimate performance saw him win by 19 ¼-lenghts. The dual Eclipse Award win is an experience that will resonate with Sadler for a lifetime.
“He’s just a brilliant racehorse,” said Sadler. “He’s very rare. It’s great. We were at the Longines Award in Europe last week and to come back here, it’s a beautiful setting. It means everything to me. I’m a career guy, so to have a horse this good in my career, is really special.”
But as it is with most great entertainers, there is a tendency to save the best for last, and this time Flightline showcased his athleticism in a hair-raising 8 ¼-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Gr. 1) at Keeneland, culminating a career that saw a horse whose brilliance on the racetrack is as impressive as that of a Lockheed SR-71 racing through the skies.
Flightline received 239 out of 246 possible first-place votes for horse of the year. His three starts were the fewest made by a horse of the year during the Eclipse Award era.
The pressure of turning in dominating performances consistently would test the mettle of most men, but Flightline’s conditioner managed the stress with professionalism and equanimity.
“To see a true artist like John Sadler, he took away your nerves,” said Finley. “He gave you confidence. I’ve never been a situation like that, I don’t think any of us have, and John just handled everything with such aplomb. I’m so glad he was part of the team.”