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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, November 6, 2022 – I always have believed that as much as I have regarded Breeders’ Cup as the best American racing had to offer, I always thought terming it “World Championships” was provincial and cheeky. That is until this past weekend.

Per usual, Europeans shippers which, in many cases, are their Tier 2 Group 1 stock, came, they saw, and they cleaned our clocks. And neither was it a contest; six turf victories in a program of seven was a singular achievement.

And speaking of achievements, Flightline is top of mind.

As we stated in Saturday’s analysis, Breeders’ Cup begins and ends with placing Flightline’s performance in clearer historical context. And he left no doubt about his place among the sport’s legendary equine heroes. He proved he belongs, beyond the shadow of doubt.

We’re going to approach the impact of the very best horse that many in the sporting world never had heard of until 5:44 pm Saturday–and tragically will never see again.

Let’s look at his impact on Breeders’ Cup 39 through a back-door prism, betting handle, a true measure that lends context to a sport which continually proves that the only matter of consequence is the bottom line. Athletic achievement be damned.

In all, a record $189 million was wagered on the 2022 Breeders’ Cup, a sizable 3.4% increase over last year’s record total at Del Mar. Here’s is a breakdown of the pools Flightline was involved in, research provided by HRI contributor Michael Antoniades:

Straight Pools: $8,929,864. Exactas: $4,459,877.  Trifectas: $3,440,861.  Superfectas: $1,767,193.  Super HI-5: $492,585.  Pick 3: $844,883. Pick 4: $3,022.814. Pick 5: $4,823,337. Pick 6: $2,850,194. Daily Double $845,963. Juvenile-Classic Double: $270,624.

Given total all-sources handle $189,060,373, the $31,748,195 wagered in all pools involving Flightline represented 16.79% of Saturday’s record-setting numbers. I have no idea who will make it into the 2023 Classic starting gate, but whoever it is will have nowhere near the business impact of a Flightline.

On Saturday night, meanwhile, some of the Twitterverse were decrying the quality of the turf races, an apparent attempt to downplay the results rather than accept the fact that Europe’s second tier Group 1 runners continue to be more than the equal of America’s best turf specialists.

Even though it’s the very end of the European season, spacing and lengthy campaigns had little to do with the results. Layoffs were measured in months or weeks; dance cards were either light or full.

Turn of foot, a European racing trademark, plays extremely well on U.S. courses, no matter how tight the bends. Late kick triumphed consistently.

The Euros won six of seven, three each by the dominant Aidan O’Brien and Charlie Appleby yards, representing the powerhouse Coolmore and Godolphin outfits.

O’Brien came with a squad looking to take care of unfinished business, winning races that in the past had eluded him. And he’s not done traveling, either. Some of Saturday’s heroes will continue on to Japan where the season winds down next month.

Appleby’s Breeders’ Cup trifecta launched him into second place among all-time leading wins by European-based trainers; his nine victories are one more that Sir Michael Stoute. The legendary trainer of the late Queen’s strong did not have a starter this year. O’Brien now has 16 Breeders’ Cup wins.

With the exception of Cody’s Wish, based in the U.S. with Bill Mott, Godolphin Racing was the first owner/breeder to win four races over a Breeders’ Cup weekend.

Speaking of the second youngest trainer ever inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Mott had quite the weekend himself. He saddled three winners Saturday, two in Breeders’ Cup events and a huge moral victory with Olympiad’s Classic strong-finish placing.

Todd Pletcher won a pair of course, using a prep over the track to succeed with both certain Juvenile champion Forte and a certain older mare championship with defending three-year-old filly titlist Malathaat.

Mark Casse had his judgment vindicated with Wonder Wheel’s comprehensive victory in the Juvenile Fillies, convincing doubters by showing she had more than enough talent to overcome adversity beneath a courageously skillful Tyler Gaffalione.

Sadly, injuries to Domestic Spending and Epicenter, despite racing’s best protocols and veterinary talent, were reminders of the precarious nature of athletic competition.

And despite Goodnight Olive’s victory in the Filly & Mare Sprint, nailing down a divisional title in the process, her trainer Chad Brown, as well as Steve Asmussen would concede that neither had the best of Breeders’ Cups.

Brad Cox got off the duck with Caravel—she was always good, but where did that race come from?– and Cyberknife made a winning effort but was beaten by a wide-all trip and the an entire crowd’s karma that squarely was in Cody Dorman’s corner, a namesake victory for the ages.

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9 Responses

  1. “As we stated in Saturday’s analysis, Breeders’ Cup begins and ends with placing Flightline’s performance in clearer historical context. And he left no doubt about his place among the sport’s legendary equine heroes. He proved he belongs, beyond the shadow of doubt.”

    What in your view, John, is his rightful place?

    Here are the horses that placed behind Flightline in his four Grade I wins:

    Country Grammer – (highest Beyer 108) two Grade I wins, one at the expense of Royal Ship (see below), and one against non-stayers in the DWC

    Royal Ship – (108) no Grade I wins in the U.S.

    Stilletto Boy – (<110) no Grade I wins (just a single Grade II win to his credit)

    Speaker's Corner – (114) one Grade I win (at the expense of a modest field)

    Happy Saver – (<110) one Grade I win (at the expense of a modest field)

    Baby Yoda – (<110) never won a Graded race

    Olympiad – (111) one Grade I win (at the expense of a modest field)

    Taiba – (108) two Grade I wins (both restricted to three-year-olds)

    The above makes it clear that Flightline dominated relatively weak opposition throughout his career, and never beat a single, remotely top-class horse that was suited to the conditions of the race.

    Having predictably been retired, he never proved durable, nor any notable weight carrying ability. He never overcame any serious obstacles, either.

    So the two pillars on which his greatness might possibly rest are speed and versatility. The latter is not comprehensive, either, as he never raced on other than a fast surface, nor did he ever race on turf, so his versatility was limited to distances.

    How might you, or anyone, for that matter, reasonably place him in a historical context within a group of all-time greats? The accomplishments of most in that category dwarf those of Flightline. As the commenter Dark Star astutely pointed out on a different forum, Kelso won 39 races, was named Horse of the Year FIVE times, while Flightline raced a total of six times! Kelso carried 130+ pounds and spotted significant weight in ~20 races, and won ~10 of them. He beat Jaipur, Ridan, Crimson Satan, Carry Back, The Axe II, Sensitivo, Saidam, Never Bend, Gun Bow, Roman Brother, Quadrangle, Pia Star, etc. He won races from 6f. to two miles, and won top races on both dirt and turf.

    In what world would Flightline somehow deserve to be placed in the same category?

  2. Tink, “among the sport’s legendary heroes” means he belongs in the conversation. For that I make no apologies. I will have more to say in a subsequent column on him specifically. I’m taking some time to exhale. As the Euros say, I’m a bit over the top of condition at the moment. It’s a long year for handicappers and horseplayers, too.

  3. Flightline’s time for his Breeders Cup victory was virtually the same as that run by American pharaoh in his Breeders Cup victory. I never read anywhere about AP’s name being mentioned with the likes of Secretariat.
    Jay Tee

    1. Jim, check for checking in with your thoughts. Researching a piece that we will begin to write very shortly, putting his running time in perspective.

  4. Comparisons today particularly linking flightline with some of the greats of yesteryear do not take into consideration that we do not have handicapping races anymore. you cannot rank flightline among the greats because he has never carried weight and never faced his elders

    1. Welcome Edwin, you’re right, of course, and as I stated above to Jim, we’re working on a piece that places your concern about historical perspective in larger context. BTW: Flightline is an elder.

      Thing is I sense a little frustration in both recent comments, a feeling I share, since none of us will get to see Flightline race again.

  5. Based on back to back Beyers of 121 and 126 going a mile and a quarter over two different dirt surfaces, there is no doubt Flightline is a great horse. He is also visually spectacular. I got chills when he passed Life Is Good on the turn and began to draw away.

    Six races does not constitute that great a body of work which is what makes it difficult to compare him to the best of the best, all of whom raced considerably more times than Flightline, but the sport is different now than it was then. Think of today’s great race horse as a starting pitcher in baseball – the qualifications for greatness have changed considerably.

    Cigar, arguably the best racehorse of the last 30 years, earned a lifetime best Beyer of 121 (1 1/8 miles); American Pharoah, mentioned by another comment, was a 105, though he did retire at three so never fully developed. I’m just saying that Flightline is a unique animal and one we only see every now and again. He was superlative from his first step on a racetrack to his last!

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