HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, September 4, 2022 — What was that I saw on Fan Duel TV last night? Was it an illusion? Magic? What it was for certain was mesmerizing, spellbinding, a stunned-disbelief twinkling.
Flightline, by Tapit, from the Indian Charlie mare, Feathered, honored his breed and his sport by putting on an exhibition that belongs in a time machine.
It was the single greatest racing moment I’ve witnessed in an age where regrets outnumber celebrations by a wide margin. It harkened horse racing back to another afternoon that had horse racing fans humming with excitement, June 9, 1973.
Veteran fans recognized greatness when they saw it over a span of five years, from Secretariat to Ruffian to Seattle Slew, and those who saw the TVG Pacific Classic on Saturday, along with sports fans from Generations X, Y and Z, can now wonder about the great speedsters of Thoroughbred racing.
Flightline is the perfect race horse, a fact underscored by a record boasting five victories in as many races, winning all, or virtually all, on the lead, yesterday separating himself from the competition, a 19-1/4 length romp around Del Mar, bringing his aggregate victory margins to a staggering 61-1/4 lengths.
Flightline’s brilliance and athleticism is what defines him as the perfect athlete.
Todd Schrupp of Fan Duel TV reported that at the barn following Flightline’s last pre-Classic workout, Victor Espinoza, partner of Triple Crown-winning American Pharoah, said that the John Sadler charge’s stride was more fluid than the champion he guided, only in a bigger package.
Espinoza’s statement took me back to a mile workout of American Pharoah’s, which went in 1:38 and a couple, in advance of a major race that compelled me to state here that his action was the most fluid I had ever seen.
From there, I flashed forward to Flightline’s 5-furlong blowout for Saturday’s race in 59 3/5, a move that more resembled five-eighths in 1:02. He scampered through the wire with his exercise rider frozen in the irons. He rendered seeing disbelieving, as he did on Saturday.
Flightline has experienced some small nagging issues that Sadler has handled perfectly, along with a training regimen that had this wondrous four-year-old spot-on for Saturday’s mile and a quarter.
Jockey Flavien Prat was both passenger and pilot yesterday at Del Mar, taking his sweet time while 3-4 paths wide rounding the clubhouse turn before eventually allowing Flightline to assume complete command.
In his post-race interview on horseback returning to the winner’s circle, Prat’s words were spoken in awe. He explained how his job was to get Flightline to relax until it was time for him to go, about five furlongs from home, widening his advantage effortlessly.
Like Olympiad–who delivered a redemptive “gold medal” performance earlier in Saratoga’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, described as such by soon-to-be, semi-retired track announcer John Imbriale–Flightline runs turns very well.
If you averted your eyes for a split second as Flightline straightened away at headstretch, he switched to his correct right lead instantly, a product of his flawless mechanics.
For journalists, there is an unwritten rule that highly discourages anthropomorphizing. But Flightline’s brilliance and style conjured up human sports superstars whose ability and grace defied imagination.
If, say, the colt were a football player, he would be more Gale Sayers than Jim Brown; in hockey, more Wayne Gretsky than Gordie Howe; in baseball, more Ted Williams than Stan Musial, more Sandy Koufax than Bob Gibson.
While it might not be exclusively his call, Sadler has hinted that the colt could run again at five, unless insurance costs become unrealistically prohibitive.
Flightline could do for racing what Man o’ War and Kelso and John Henry and Ruffian did for the sport before him.
What characterized Secretariat’s greatness was his mystical Belmont Stakes 49 years ago, winning by an unimaginable 31-lenghts, running a mile and a half in 2:24, 12-clipping his way to historical greatness, an effort commonly regarded as the greatest performance in the history of the sport.
While there is no comparison, Flightline’s Pacific Classic belongs in an “all-time” conversation, a 19-1/4 length victory in 1:59.28, a mere 17 ticks off Del Mar’s track standard.
Flightline 12-clipped his way through the race with an approximated opening gambit in 23:92 while attached to the hip of Extra Hope, before speeding away in quarters of 22.64, 23.91, 24.50 and 24.81, eased about sixteenth of a mile from home.
Post race, majority owner Kosta Hronis, referred to his runner as “America’s favorite racehorse.” The only issue with that statement is that most of America has never heard of a horse called Flightline.
But thanks to the creation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which slowly could earn back some of the sport’s credibility and respect from the public, Flightline could lead the industry back to the promise land of yore. Super horses can do that. There are 62 days until the Breeders’ Cup Classic.