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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

FLIGHTLINE SOARS WHILE HISA FLATLINES; NOW WHAT?

LOS ANGELES, January 1, 2022—The excitement generated by Flighline’s electrifying performance in the Malibu Stakes has been extraordinary. Not since Spectacular Bid has the winner of that race shown such promise and received such attention.  

Trainer John Sadler has yet to reveal the colt’s next start but has indicated the Met Mile is a likely target, prompting Mark Ratsky to humorously project “Flightline’s three months between races.”

Still, it may be a good PR exercise to encourage fans to map out a potential championship campaign for themselves.

Sadler also mentioned the Saudi Cup as a possibility. That distance transition worked for Nyquist who won the nine-furlong Florida Derby off a victory in the seven-furlong San Vicente, but he didn’t have to travel half-way around the world, nor overlook the practices of a bloodthirsty regime in the process.

If this ownership group truly believes they have a “horse of a lifetime,” they should make sure the horse negotiates all the classic distances of his revered predecessors and be amply rewarded for doing so. Indeed, it appears he will be running to a greater extent against the clock rather than against his equine competition.

Flightline arguably is the best attendance drawing card since American Pharoah. His owners and track operators should take full advantage of it.

First of all, NYRA should move the Met Mile from Belmont Stakes Day to an optimal date on the calendar more supportive of a Horse of the Year campaign and not share the public spotlight.

Unlike the last such eye-popper I witnessed which was Arrogate’s surprising Travers, Flightline’s Malibu was totally predictable, and the possible deployment of “rocket fuel” never occurred to me.

But with the breakdown in negotiations between HISA and the USADA, the specter of altered outcomes associated with PED use and jockey rough-riding could still threaten Flightline’s campaign given the possible absence of uniform standards for medication, steward decision making and regular out of competition drug testing.

Several journalists have penned their reactions to those announcements. The consensus appears to be that no meaningful reform can occur without USADA, and that going back to the negotiating table is the only realistic option.

All the commentary speculated that cost was the issue. The lack of transparency at such an early stage doesn’t bode well for the future and suggests that the HISA board appointees should be the first to fully explain their position and confirm it is really what racing’s stakeholders want.

Charles Hayward wrote, “Working together, HISA and USADA were intending to replace inefficient, poorly run individual state regulatory authorities with one federal authority to manage all regulatory aspects of Thoroughbred racing.”

Does that statement accurately reflect their positions?

Any solution to cost problems must involve some kind of re-distribution of handle, sales, and/or stud fees to various stakeholders, and perhaps require reforms outside of medication/safety concerns to accomplish.

Many consider ADWs to be the most appropriate source of funding for increased integrity. Furthermore, consolidating them – or at least regulating them uniformly — could enable them to shoulder a larger share.

There are also those who think owners of prolific stallions and sellers of high-priced horseflesh should help pay to test their progeny and product, respectively?

Flightline was sold at auction for $1,000,000. So far he has earned $259,800. Why can’t Flightline pay for his own drug testing? For that matter, why couldn’t the top four finishers in any race with some specified minimum purse pay for theirs?

His sire, Tapit’s, stud fee was $185,000 (down from $300,000 in 2015).  He sired 1625 foals over 16 crops, averaging over 100 per crop. Couldn’t Tapit’s breeders at least contribute toward the drug testing of all his offspring still racing at every level?

Incredibly, Tapit has sired 28 G1 winners and 32 yearlings that sold at auction for $1,000,000 or more. His progeny have earned $178,000,000. While few sires are anywhere near this successful, there is clearly enough money being transacted through breeding to help ensure it is being distributed based on legitimate racing results.

Hopefully this impasse in negotiations is not yet another example of the increasing Amerian obstructionism that has plagued this nation during 2021.

Ironically, we could neither convince enough humans to get injections, nor prevent too many horses from getting them. May the New Year bring HISA and USDA back to the table with a greater willingness to air disagreements publicly, and keep hope alive with demonstrable progress.

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6 Responses

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more about moving the Met Mile. It never belonged as some other race’s warm up band anyhow. There was a perfect marriage between Memorial Day and the Met Mile and that marriage never should have been torn apart in the first place.

    1. DD,
      Funny you should mention marriage.

      I actually attended the Met Mile in 1969 and it was the luckiest day of my life. No, I didn’t cash on Arts and Letters, but I did meet the love of my life a few hours later.

      Career and then family subsequently kept me from betting that race again until, ironically, they moved the race to Belmont day which was one of my negotiated “Dad gets a day off at the track” days .

      It isn’t so much that I want to restore the race to Memorial Day, but rather to find a date that optimizes availability of contenders with sufficient class and speed to successfully compete at its distance. Better still, a date that would leave its starters ready to compete in subsequent divisional G1s with sufficient rest.

      1. I,

        Well, can certainly see why you have an affection for the Met Mile on Memorial Day! Good story.

        On a serious note, you are right in that the race provides at least one extra week of spacing into the longer Grade 1s to come.

  2. Doc, you would think that with the amount of attention this subject has gotten. that NYRA would rethink the date of the Met Mile and reinstall it to Memorial Day, ,making it a kind of unofficial true start to the New York prime time racing season.

    With the retirement of the former Vice President of Racing, management has the cover it needs to make the change. Something like seven graded stakes and five Grade 1s should be enough to carry Belmont Stakes day, yeah?

  3. With respect to “rough riding,” for those of us who were around (we’re dropping like flies) investing in the 60s, we would cringe when our horse would even cross over in front of another horse, even if clear, knowing the horse may well be taken down. Today’s jockeys believe that is their right. It’s a different game altogether. This old standard needs to be put back in place, as only jockeys being aware that doing (interfering and intimidating with impunity) so will get them nowhere but a nice suspension, will this problem with the game be rectified. Unfortunately, the leftists have taken over the game, placed social workers in the position of judging the contests, and made jockeys the rulers of their own destiny.

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