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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

CONJURING FLIGHTLINE

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.

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27 Responses

  1. And Flightline will run at age 5 as well John. Returning late yesterday on a ferry from Block island back to Montauk, I didn’t get to watch live but I love what I am reading in your column. I did say reading, as I’ll be reading again. I did pass by Eastport and gave a wave and tip of the cap to Tobasco Cat, but suspect he may have been attention diverted Flightline. I sure hope Indulto caught the running or at the very least he gets a heads up on your writing.

    A Happy Labor Day to all the HRI Faithful. Missing the Preacher’s verse today, I plan to jump on a couple of David Aragona’s runners on the Timeform US NYRA analysis page. David is always a comfortable match when John takes rest from his keyboard.

    Safe journey to all. Riders Up!

  2. Thanks Mc D, and we’ll get back in the game slowly. After writing column this am, slept six hours this afternoon. Good to be home.

    Will write a Spa wrap in a day or two. Lots of emails in the inbox. Eventually, we’ll get it all done. Checking up on Aragona never a bad idea…

    Happy Labor Day to all the HRI Faithful, indeed.

  3. That horse has a perefct stride; If he was an olympic diver, he wouldn’t leave even the slightest splash when he went into the water.

  4. Curious is all John What were the small nagging issue’s that Sadler had corrected? No rush on a reply until you replenish the wind in your sails. Please let Toni know that I much enjoyed viewing the new seven furlong chute photo.

    “Twelve clipping” horseracing back into the days of the future indeed. Count me in.

    I will be telling my grandchildren about Flightline and inviting them to watch the upcoming Breeders Cup Championship with me. Next year hopefully my three generations will get to take on another field trip together to Belmont to watch him. At present each year, we all travel over on Father’s Day. I suspect the field trips over to Elmont just might be how we can best contribute to rebuild our sport.

    Factoring in the Horseracing Integrity and Safety oversight, Flightline, and a few trips with our grandchildren, I can see a rebirth of interest and a future for the sport. The horizons for racing are golden once more. So hope the connections run Flightline at age five. I understand the added weight to be carried with insurance, but I do think we have another Seabiscuit to help redeem the sport going into 2023.

    What sparked my interest in racing in my youth was Carry Back when well back on the far turn in ’61. Maybe for my youngsters it will be Flightline in his Cup race. I will continue teaching the youngsters on the concept of moderation with all things in racing as well. With Flightline however, will it be moderation in excess, or excess in moderation? So hope we can all witness him at five.

    For now, Riders Up for the BC, and get a spot near the rail for what the golden glimmer of the future may bring us.

    1. Believe one was a swollen hock and there was some barn injury, not serious, just needed time to heal whatever.

      I was rethinking the Flightline and HISA and a racing resurgence. My hesitancy is that it was a different era. But I will say this. Children are fascinated by horses once they get up close and personal.

      I remember the Carry Back race! My first memory was watching Silky Sullivan at a lunch counter with my parents at an ice cream parlor. Went to Roosevelt with them and aunt and uncle at the second Roosevelt International. Three-for-three; Count Pick, Speedy Pick and can’t remember the third… I loved the track atmosphere. Kelso’s Met Mile live hooked me forever…

  5. The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea, LIKE FLIGHTLINE?
    It lingered there, to touch your hair and walk with me
    All summer long we sang a song and then we strolled that golden sand
    Two sweethearts, OUR VW BEETLE and the summer wind..

    Dear Indulto’s Friends,

    Conjuring, Yes! that’s a Indulto type of word to describe Flightline. You always needed a dictionary when reading the words of the I-Man, lol. Of course Indy watched the race. He had the dime super! It paid nine cents, lol. I can’t watch a big race without thoughts and prayers to Indy.

    Yes! Happy Labor day to all! Especially the backstretch people who make the game without fanfare. You know the older you get it seems everyday is Labor Day. It’s a labor to get up out of bed, go to the bathroom, read the racing form…but it’s never a labor to watch greatness like a horse named Flightline.

    McD, let me set the record straight. I don’t reside from Eastport. You’re probably confused because I once touted a horse named Eastport. Well like many of my dreamers, Eastport never made it to the Derby. In fact last seen Eastport was running at Mountaineer for 4K claimers. My dream did once come through with Orb though, so there’s that.

    Amazingly though, Eastport and Flightline have something in common. Their bloodlines contain a Phipps broodmare. You see after Dinny’s passing, the Phipps sold some of their blue blood broodmares. Eastport came from the Phipps mare Resort. While Flightline came from the mare feathered who came from the Phipps mare Receipt. The SUMMERWIND Equines took advantage of this situation and purchased Feathered and then Flightline. Sometimes smart money and breeding knowledge pays dividends.

    Comparing legends of different era’s in sports and horseracing is always subjective. Tiger and Jack, Lebron and Michael, Aaron Judge (it’s early I know) and Ruth, Todd and Wayne, Johnny V and Eddie A, Flightline (It’s early I know) and Big Red or Kelso. “Once upon a time there was Kelso, … but only once”, Joe Hirsch.

    Remember when TvTom proclaimed Arrogate “the horse I waited all my life for”? Some of us agreed and some of us thought he was nuts. Flightline is the now G.O.A.T. He can’t be compared ever to Big Red, Seattle Slew or any Triple Crown winner because he didn’t run there. He can never be compared to Kelso because he won’t run 63 times, carry 130 lbs 24 times or be HOY 5 times. He won’t have the time needed (because of breeding syndication) in his career to bring out the massive crowds that Kelso did or even put the sport back on the front pages of the mainstream map. It’s a different World today. He can though bring out some newbies and continue to amaze us oldbies, lol. I hope he runs in the 2023 Whitney.

    Where’s Chuck From Saratoga? He was the first to point out Flightline. Hope all is well. The beat goes on…

    The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea
    It lingered there, to touch your hair and walk with me
    All summer long we sang a song and then we strolled that golden sand
    Two sweethearts and the summer wind

    Like painted kites, those days and nights they went flyin’ by
    The world was new beneath a blue umbrella sky
    Then softer than a piper man, one day it called to you
    I lost you, I lost you to the summer wind

    The autumn wind, and the winter winds they have come and gone
    And still the days, those lonely days, they go on and on
    And guess who sighs his lullabies through nights that never end
    My fickle friend, the summer wind
    The summer wind
    Warm summer wind
    The summer wind…

    1. God, I love that parody Cat, you are still the master.

      Where is Chuck from Saratoga indeed? Expected to hear from him while upstate; hope all is well.

      Seeing the lyrics in print, one hears Sinatra, what a great song!

      And you are timely. Johnny I, a huge Chairman of the Board fan, calls his last Spa race today. Conjuring life, indeed…

      And loved the Indulto reference. Have a great Labor Day…

  6. Greetings from beautiful Wolf Road, Albany. Mrs. DanM and I are about to put our noses down at the wire and make our one and only visit to Saratoga in 2022.

    Thanks, John. You have allowed me to post these below average selections for the entire meet. I am confident there is something to be learned from this exercise in futility that could be beneficial to all horseplayers, I just need a few days to figure it out. Full post-mortem report to follow.

    A late scratch yesterday leaves me with 2 makeup selections. Best of luck to all.

    SAR 2022: 32 for 115, minus $598, minus 26% ROI

    Wagers for SAR 05SEP2022 (Day 40)

    Race 2 – $20 to WIN on SOMAMA BEACH
    Race 5 – $20 to WIN on AIDANIKE
    Race 7 – $20 to WIN on GARTH ROAD
    Race 8 – $20 to WIN on PORTOS
    Race 10 – $20 to WIN on SHALIMAR GARDENS

    1. All I can do is root Dan. A safe and fruitful journey to all. Looking forward to post mortem, could be good column fodder.

      Wolf Road. Northway Exit 4, right?

      1. Exit 4. Any chain restaurant or hotel you can think of is located there, also many independent operators. Only 25 miles from the track, Wolf Road is a lower cost alternative to Saratoga Springs.

  7. Dimes wagered with Indy and Photos by Toni. What a web page. You guys all have me with Johnny Ruane up with a four length lead and I’m headed for the Cashier’s Window.

    P.S. Catman, the runner that haunted me was Rythmn. Think he did the same with Shug. Neck bowed he looked always so good pre-post. Often times he simply didn’t fire. What a game. Thanks for the Phipps and Eastport history. There was someone on this board by the way who mention living in Eastport (out east on the Island) but I somehow have the cast of usual suspects confused. Even in the confusion however, Tabasco is still able to establish a connection. Taking a break from the HRI board, and headed over to the NYRA pages to see who David A. might like on getaway day. A great holiday to all. If only we could turn the clock back for a game of stickball……

  8. Catman–I am amazed that you remembered that I was one of the first to proclaim Flightline as a super horse in the making. Thanks to you for the shout out!
    And JP, sorry that your trip to the Spa was derailed by COVID and automobile issues–as well as a few dining out disappointments. Glad to hear that you have recovered and made it back home safely!

  9. David Aragona “filling in today” for Bishop Loughlin did select Forte in The Hopeful, so he more than made up for his selection with Race 12 finishing 3rd. Ribots Valentine had the lead in the go away race, but gave way. Cashed for a small payout on an Indulto’s Dimes SF on Race 11 as well. Thanks you I-man.mcd

  10. Mc D, Forte certainly was an insider good thing TO all except this insider apparently. Mr. Serling also picked him; great selections from those two…
    The Mo horse in the Hopeful was dead on the board and dead in the running, Won’t chase him on another wet track but may forgive if the sun is shining and the track is fast.
    All handicappers need to sharpen their pencils and fill the midnight oil casks. Five million-dollar races not named Breeders’ Cup on one program, all on turf this Saturday at Kentucky Downs. The races are going to be impossible, but, one winner can make your day!

  11. Thinking here is that David Aragona and Andy Sterling are very often in sync in their top selection, both very often reaching past the ML favorites for a better return. As a player most often found with a pitching wedge in hand, I tend to like the 4-1 to 6-1 runners best. Most always content to lean on the Loughlin FRA Lines at HRI as well. Vino has me now looking for his take on Saturdays. Looks like good fall campaign coming up. Only regret is we will be missing racing at Belmont Park until the spring.

  12. Indeed, too bad about Belmont Fall but the anticipated improvements are exciting. The Belmont Infield. One could get lost out there!

    Interesting take on the Aragona/Serling alignment consider the former constructs the ML.

    Two schools of thought. One can be a longshot “handicapapper” such as Newsday’s Steve Matthews, or stick strictly to the form, a la a Russ Harris.

    I tend to trust my gut and no longer go way out of my way to beat solid favorites. Why? “Singles” potential in horizontal pools. I like mixing it up in a set of selections…

  13. I think the eclipse for top trainer is a really interesting race this year. It feels super wide open.

    On the jockey end, unless things radically change between next week and the day after the BC, I can’t see anyone within shouting distance of the great turmoiled one. Early in the year he won both the big turf and the big dirt race on the Pegasus card at GP, won the Belmont Spring meet title, won one leg of the triple crown (with Sonny Leon and Jose Ortiz – two jocks with no Eclipse resume this year outside that win – winning the others), then absolutely laid waste to the competition in the Saratoga meet. He leads the country in wins while riding in the best jockey colony – in fact, this will be his 6th consecutive year leading the country in wins, and before you chalk it up to endless chalk mounts, he even shows a flat bet profit on all turf horses he’s ridden over the past calendar year. I know people don’t like him, and not without reason – he is far from my favorite to be sure. But fair is fair. Nobody is in his class. Flavien Prat has had a great year, and has to be the #2 candidate by about as far a margin to #3 as the gap is to #2.

    Horse of the year is over unless Flightline suddenly becomes mortal. After seeing how he handled adversity in the Met Mile while racing far away from home, it is hard seeing mortality striking out of nowhere on BC day.

    I will miss Belmont this fall, but I’ve always loved Aqueduct and those turf courses are really good.

    1. Nothing changes with the exception of higher prices,higher purses. The Status Quo remains the same; look at the leading trainers,outfits,jockeys,owners. What or who is new at the top ? One continuing question’…How can a trainer do so well at Aqueduct and not so well at both Belmont and Saratoga ? Something must give !!Rudy Rodriquez has a pitiful winning %,,but not at the BIG A,,,Interesting !! This question has been repeated several times while the ‘Insiders'[laugh} remain silent. Omerta` ! In closing best month in a long time but i wish that someone like Andy Beyer should have been invited sooner and more often instead of some anonymous puppet mouthpiece .Talent? Results? Interest ? Why put them by the wayside ? Hire him,even if just on Saturdays.It`s worth the price and time of watching,listening. Dont forget 9\11 not for the politicians and their BS but for those volunteers,firemen,first aids,policemen and thos e herois passengers flying over Pennsylvania.I was there,on 28 Street that Tuesday morning and unless you were there NOBODY KNOWS WHAT WE WENT THROUGJH! God bless then all,,….It STILL Moves Me,Angers me,21 yrs later,,,,,,,,,

  14. All well reasoned points top to bottom, Doc. Agreed that Irad is the leader in the clubhouse, and everywhere else. Hopefully, maturity and more respect comes sooner than later.

    A hypothetical: Both Ortiz Jr and Prat rate to have outstanding Breeders’ Cups, but what if, say Prat goes wild and wins four or five races? That would be the kind of accomplishment to build winning Eclipse momentum.

    Two great riders for sure, even if one is not always a pleasure to watch…

    1. Yeah I agree – in the case you present where Prat just goes wild and wins 5 BC races, that is where the baggage that comes with Irad could very well come up to sting him.

  15. Another channel infected with ‘Props’ as one tries to check horses and races. This new assault on the gullible lonely bettors will hopefully cost these rip off upstarts money in the long by having some politicians with cojones to put limits on these touts come ons with ridiculous ‘cannot lose ‘offers.Is anyone aware of this Bologna Sandwich? So,they have infected too many channels and ‘shows’ with picks as if IF they pick the wrong team,fight,match they will Reimburse you? Do they keep a balance on how many winning picks from so many 30 minutes,60 minutes “shows” Alternating with the accompanying commercials which remind me of Bob Hope`s movie “The Lemon Drop Kid’. This is terrifyingly worse that when so many ‘disc Jockey’ name would advertise in USA Today and other papers with toll free number and Several GUARANTEED GAMES ,OR,,,,YOU WILL RECEIVE FREE PICKS FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON ..! Wow ,how can an idiot with a balance on a credit card Refuse ? i HAVE SEEN,SO FAR between changing channels ,at least a dozen or so clips.Are there REALLY so many Suckers out there? The NY POST,THE BEST SPORTS SECTION IN NY CITY KEEPS ON HAVING MORE AND MORE INVITATIONS,I BELIEVE THAT THEY NOW HAVE A “BETTING SECTION”… Will i be surprised if i would soon see such come ons,props in the HRI pages? Of course not.Those ads pay the bills,as the mailman told me about the fourth class junk mail. The names of such interminable shows give several hints about who are they trying to catch,,,It ain’t me,but millions of other gullible,feeble minds..OF ANY AGE,from 18-21 to the long time retired lonely souls whose only friends are promises and liquor. Terrible minds going to waste , while they alienate themselves from,their money. A mind is a terrible thing to waste,so is listening to BS. Wonder if any of these losers will first check with their Psychics ,IF they can afford them !Getting dumber by the day with ‘Smart ‘ phones but not an ounce of logic Thee days Common sense is so rare.

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