LEXINGTON, Ky. — Flightline‘s legendary status grew exponentially on Saturday when the undefeated colt turned in a stereotypically devastating performance to win the $5.34 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland by 8 1/4 lengths.
The victory, his third in as many starts this season, undoubtedly clinched 2022 Horse of the Year honors for the four-year-old trained by John Sadler and ridden by Flavien Prat. His campaign will be the briefest for any Horse of the Year honoree since Native Dancer won the 1954 title, also off of a three-race campaign. However, only one of Native Dancer’s races, the Metropolitan H., occurred in a stakes.
Flightline’s first stakes this term also came in the Metropolitan (G1), and his six-length margin of victory in that June 11 Belmont Park fixture remains the smallest of his career. Flightline’s second occurred in the Sept. 3 Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar, which he won by 19 1/4 lengths.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic immediately ranks high among Flightline’s numerous exceptional performances. The 1 1/4-mile test over a fast track was a two-horse race for the opening mile, with Life Is Good showing his customary speed and Flightline rating in second. The pace was hot — :22.55, :45.47, and 1:09.62 — and the pair distanced themselves from the rest of the field by more than 15 lengths at one point.
“He was traveling well and relaxed well down the backside. I felt like (he) was in control the whole race.” Prat said.
The exertion Life Is Good put forth in an attempt to outrun Flightline began to wear on him as the pair reached the quarter pole. While Flightline easily assumed control and drew off to another epic triumph, Life Is Good made a steady retreat through the stretch.
Flightline finished up in 2:00.05, .45 seconds off the track record set by Authentic in the 2020 Classic, though Flightline was never asked for speed down the stretch.
“In the words of Bud Delp, he’s one of the best horses to ever look through a bridle. He’s just that good,” said Sadler, referencing the late trainer’s thoughts about his Hall of Fame charge Spectacular Bid.
“This is a rare horse. It happens every 20 or 30 years. One of the best American racehorses we’ve seen in a long, long time. And I’m talking back to Secretariat, Seattle Slew. You go through the list,” Sadler added.
Owned by Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Woodford Racing, Flightline returned $2.88. Olympiad edged the three-year-old Taiba for second by a half-length, with Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Rich Strike finishing fourth. Life Is Good faded to fifth and was followed by Hot Rod Charlie and Happy Saver.
Epicenter, the pro tem leader among the three-year-old male class and second choice in the Classic wagering, was pulled up down the backside after sustaining an injury to his right forelimb. Epicenter was able to walk into the equine ambulance. After further evaluation at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, he was diagnosed with a condylar fracture, and surgery is scheduled for Sunday morning.
Flightline’s constitution has limited him to six starts since April 2021. All have been jaw-dropping their own way, beginning with a 13 1/4-length maiden win at Santa Anita over six furlongs. More than four months later came a 12 3/4-length allowance win at Del Mar, also over six furlongs. His first stakes win, in the seven-furlong Malibu (G1) over seven furlongs by 11 1/2 lengths, came more than three months later. It was more than five months before he was seen again in the Met Mile.
“What I’ve tried to be is a good steward to him, be fair with him. And if you’re good with your horses, they’re good with you,” Sadler said.
Purchased for $1 million at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale, Flightline was produced by Edgewood (G3) winner Feathered, a daughter of Indian Charlie. His respective third and fourth dams were Grade 1 winners Finder’s Fee and Fantastic Find, and the matriarchal line traces to 1966 champion three-year-old filly Lady Pitt.
A 2.5% ownership share in Flightline will be offered at auction Monday at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, though his impact on the sport has become virtually priceless.