Entering on a four-race unbeaten streak to start his career, Flightline was heavily favored to win the $1 million, Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes Sept. 3 at Del Mar. He carried 3-10 odds at post time despite never having raced farther than a mile and while facing five graded stakes winners, including Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline victor Country Grammer.
But the way Flightline won the Pacific Classic Saturday evening was something few, if any, had ever seen before. After all, Secretariat’s 31-length Belmont Stakes victory was nearly 50 years ago.
When all was said and done, the Tapit colt finished with a 19 ¼-length domination of his opponents, finishing 1 ¼ miles just short of the track record set by Candy Ride in the 2003 Pacific Classic. Flightline cemented his status as the favorite to win the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 5 at Keeneland Race Course after earning an automatic berth to that race with his spectacular Pacific Classic victory.
Flightline put himself into the race right from the start, even though horses on either side bumped him leaving the gate. He took the early lead on the outside and then settled into second as longshot Extra Hope led the well-bunched field into the first turn.
Racing wide, Flightline began the assault that would quickly launch him into another dimension. At the five-eighths pole he took command and would never relinquish it.
Was that too soon to go to the lead? With an ordinary racehorse dealing with 1 ¼ miles, maybe so. But this was Flightline. He lengthened his stride and the distance began to increase – one length, then 10, then 13. The fractions looked like Flightline might slow down, as he completed six furlongs in 1:09.97, but watching the way he moved, no one expected another horse to get anywhere near him.
“When we went into the final turn, he was traveling so well I asked him to pick it up a little bit,” said jockey Flavien Prat. “As soon as I looked back and saw how far in front he was, I wrapped up on him.”
The crowd roared as Flightline galloped down the stretch. Jaws dropped when Flightline crossed the finish line, and even with Prat gearing him down, Flightline stopped the clock in 1:59.28, just 0.17 off Candy Ride’s stakes and track record. Country Grammer finished second, seven lengths in front of Royal Ship in third.
Flightline’s winning margin annihilated the Pacific Classic record of 12 ½ lengths, set in 2019 by Accelerate, like Flightline trained by John Sadler. Sadler has now trained four of the last five winners of the Pacific Classic.
When co-owner Kosta Hronis heard the official margin, he laughed and said, “Well, there goes Accelerate’s record – poor Accelerate.” Hronis owned Accelerate in the name of his family’s Hronis Racing. Kosta, wife Stephanie, and brother Pete own Flightline in partnership with breeder Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Equine, Siena Farm, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Woodford Racing.
Flightline has never been tested, having won all five of his races by a combined 62 ¾ lengths. It is a light schedule for a 4-year-old, but a few issues kept him from starting until April of his 3-year-old season. Sadler has long said that it is important to harness Flightline’s incredible speed.
“This horse is so brilliant you have to space his races a little bit apart because he is his own category,” said Sadler. “I know him well and I know what’s best for him is to build up his energy between one race to the next. We’d all want to see him run more times, but when he runs like this you don’t need to run him more times. Enjoy the ones that you run in.”
Sadler was fairly certain that he would train the colt all the way up to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic without going in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 1, the normal last Classic prep for West Coast-based horses. If that’s the case, Flightline will enter the 1 ¼-mile championship race with a record of 5-for-5 and earnings of $1,394,800 – and with a reputation already established as one of the most innately talented racehorses in many years.
Gold Phoenix Wins Del Mar Handicap Thriller, Punches Ticket to Longines Turf
Though trainer Phil D’Amato didn’t come into the $300,000, Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap Presented by The Japan Racing Association Sept. 3 at Del Mar with the favorite, he came away with the victory – just as he has historically done in the race.
For the seventh time in the last nine years, D’Amato won the 1 3/8-mile turf race, this time doing so with late-running Gold Phoenix, who, under jockey Flavien Prat, edged Master Piece in a head-bobbing thriller. With the Del Mar Handicap serving as Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series qualifier, Gold Phoenix earned an automatic, paid berth in the Nov. 5 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland.
While the Del Mar Handicap may belong to D’Amato, Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup preps at Del Mar belonged to Prat, who a race earlier took the TVG Pacific Classic by 19 ¼ lengths aboard Flightline (see above).
The jockey, who shifted his tack east this spring after regularly topping the standings in Southern California, had to work much harder on Gold Phoenix in the Del Mar Handicap, and at the wire, the winning margin was a head.
Billy Koch of Little Red Feather Racing, which owns Gold Phoenix with Sterling Stables and Marsha Naify, praised Prat and D’Amato after the race in an interview with FanDuel TV’s Britney Eurton. He quipped that he told Prat in the paddock to ride their horse “just like Flightline.”
“Really, thank you to Prat for coming into town, and obviously Phil D’Amato owns this race. He’s the best trainer,” Koch added.
Gold Phoenix, an Irish-bred 4-year-old gelded son of Belardo, turned in his customarily honest effort Saturday. Never off the board now in eight career starts, he notched his first stakes victory after only making one prior stakes start before Saturday, a third-place finish in the Charles Whittingham Stakes April 30 at Santa Anita Park.
Rallying from 10th in the 11-horse field, Gold Phoenix finished up in 2:14.51 over firm turf as the 3.80-1 second betting choice behind Master Piece.