The 4-year-old Tapit colt may only have six career starts, but what he has done with that body of work! He has demolished his competition by a combined 71 lengths. No wonder trainer John Sadler did not hesitate after Flightline’s latest tour de force to declare him “one of the greatest horses of all time” during a post-race interview on NBC.
Sadler later added: “He’s just been brilliant. Brilliant is his normal. He didn’t disappoint.”
Sadler compared Flightline to Triple Crown champions Secretariat and Seattle Slew. He also alluded to the great Spectacular Bid in quoting his trainer. “In the words of Bud Delp, he’s one of the best horses ever to look through a bridle. He’s just that good.”
After breaking well, racing’s superstar and jockey Flavien Prat always seemed to be in control in the Classic even as they tracked expected leader Life Is Good and Irad Ortiz Jr. They always kept the front-runner in range during the 1 ¼-mile Classic, letting him know they were looming, as Life Is Good sped through an opening quarter of a mile in :22.55 seconds, a half-mile in :45.47 seconds and three quarters of a mile in a crackling 1:09.62.
In the end, Life Is Good, for all of his abundant speed and talent, wanted no part of a mile and a quarter. And he definitely wanted no part of the horse in hot pursuit as the leading pair distanced themselves from the rest of the overmatched eight-horse field.
“He was traveling well and relaxed well down the backside,” Prat said. “I felt like I was in control the whole race.”
Flightline easily blew past him and, as Prat took a long look back, the only question was how great the winning margin would be. This was not the record 19 ¼-length cushion that the colt produced in the Sept. 3 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar against a field that included five graded stakes winners. Given how deep the field was Nov. 5 in his latest display of brilliance – featuring seven graded stakes winners – this victory was every bit as impressive.
The only question about 0.44-1 favorite Flightline, who blew through the mile and a quarter in 2:00.05, now concerns his future. Fans yearn to see what the earner of $4,514,800 might be able to accomplish as a 5-year-old. But his immense value as a stallion suggests he will more likely head to Lane’s End Farm, which has secured his breeding rights.
Fans have been somewhat frustrated by the extremely conservative handling of Flightline, who has endured his share of setbacks. He was unraced at 2. He made only three starts at 3, breaking his maiden on April 24 at Santa Anita Park, then winning an allowance race at Del Mar before acing his first Grade 1 test, when he thrashed his foes in the Runhappy Malibu Stakes last December by 11 ½ lengths.
Flightline did not make his 4-year-old debut until June 11, when he overcame early trouble to control the Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap by six lengths. Then came his wow performance in the Pacific Classic. And now comes what will likely be the exclamation point to it all.
“What I’ve tried to do is be a good steward for him, be fair to him,” said Sadler, noting that horses tend to reward such painstaking handling.
Flightline was so overpowering that Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott was delighted to place second with Olympiad. “How could you be more pleased? We’re here on the wrong year. His race would have won some other Classics.”
Fellow Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert compared Flightline to his 2015 Triple Crown champion. “He reminds me of American Pharoah,” he said. “He ran a gallant race. I’m proud of him. He’s tough.
“You watch him in the morning, you’d never think he’s that good. But when he gets in the gate, he’s a different horse.”
Life Is Good was essentially doomed by his own speed. “Life Is Good was moving really well, but was going really fast early,” noted Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, his trainer. “He was traveling well until the last furlong and just couldn’t see it out.”
That decision will wait for another day. “We’ll all get together and discuss it,” said Kostas Hronis. “We’ll always do what’s best for the horse, I promise you that.”
Hronis praised Sadler, assistant trainer and exercise rider Juan Leyva and the rest of Sadler’s staff for its handing of Flightline. “He wanted to run fast all the time,” he noted. “They turned this horse into a racehorse.”