Flightline Romps in Met Mile to Headline Results from Belmont Stakes Undercard

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Flightline, with Flavien Prat aboard, rolled to a six-length victory in the Metropolitan Handicap June 11 at Belmont Park, earning an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. (Chelsea Durand/NYRA)

The long-delayed start of the 2022 season for Flightline proved worth the wait for his connections and fans as the undefeated son of Tapit overcame a slow start to post a six-length victory in the $1 million Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap June 11 at Belmont Park. The Met Mile was part of a loaded undercard of racing for the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets that featured eight other graded stakes, seven of them Grade 1s.

Starting for the first time since his spectacular victory in the Runhappy Malibu Stakes Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park, Flightline delivered another eye-catching performance Saturday before a who’s who of the racing industry that initially gathered in the paddock and then followed the field of five through the tunnel. They would not be disappointed.

Flightline broke a half-beat slow when lunging slightly from the gate and then had to twice be taken in hand and slightly steadied by jockey Flavien Prat when he began to advance inside behind Carter Handicap winner Speaker’s Corner in the opening quarter-mile. But after that, Flightline settled into a tracking position.

Prat celebrates aboard Flightline. (Eclipse Sportswire)

After Speaker's Corner led through a quarter-mile in :22.78 and a half-mile in :45.01, Flightline was tipped out where he gained even terms three furlongs out before taking command near the five-sixteenths pole. From there it would be all flash as he built his lead through the stretch to win going away. Despite the slow start, Flightline completed the one-turn mile in 1:33.59 on the fast track.

“He didn’t break well but soon after that he was traveling well – just an incredible horse," Prat said in a winner’s circle where connections lingered to bask in the moment. “Once he was behind the other horse, he was comfortable.”

Flightline has won his four races by a combined 43 ½ lengths.

“For a young horse who has not had that much seasoning, he just overcame the adversity and proved himself best,” trainer John Sadler said. “He overcame trouble; that’s the storyline.”

The 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes winner, Happy Saver, rallied for second, 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Speaker’s Corner in third.

The Met Mile win earns Flightline a fees-paid start in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile Nov. 5 at Keeneland as the race is a “Win and You're In” qualifier.

Campaigned by Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Woodford Racing, Flightline has earned $794,800.

“It’s really gratifying to get here after the hiccup we had with him,” Sadler added. “We weren’t rushed. We had plenty of time to train him for this. To his credit he’s a very good trainer. He’s such an athlete. Winning the Met Mile is so gratifying. It’s such a historic race and a stallion-making race and he’s all of those things. He’s the whole package. ”

Sadler said he’s considering a two-turn start down the road but as Flightline has had just one start this year, he’ll take some time to think about his options.–Frank Angst

Clairiere Edges Malathaat in Ogden Phipps Thriller, Earns BC Distaff Berth

Clairiere narrowly best over Malathaat. (Eclipse Sportswire)

There are times when starting more than 47,000 horses in a Hall of Fame career comes in handy – just ask trainer Steve Asmussen.

In the course of a whirlwind 2 ½-hour span June 11 at Belmont Park, the sport’s all-time winning trainer enjoyed a refresher course in horse racing’s powerful highs and lows.

In the Acorn Stakes (see below), Asmussen endured the shock of his 2-year-old champion Echo Zulu scratched at the gate.

Then, four races later, Asmussen was on top of the world when Stonestreet Stables’ homebred Clairiere edged past Malathaat to record a head victory in the $480,000, Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes for fillies and mares, securing a free spot in the Nov. 5 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series program.

“Who would be better prepared to take it than someone who has run (47,852) horses,” Asmussen said. “Always and never are two words that do not belong in this game. I mean, what’s next?”

Though only five horses broke from the starting gate in the Phipps, there was quality top to bottom. Last year’s champion older dirt female, Letruska, was the 3-4 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile test, but she faded to last and trotted across the finish line after battling through a withering :45.23 half-mile.

In the stretch, the race came down to Malathaat, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2021, and Clairiere, with Asmussen’s daughter of Curlin prevailing in a very fleet 1:41.10 under jockey Joel Rosario and reversing the order of the top two finishers in last year’s Alabama Stakes.

“It was very special with the field here," Asmussen said. "It’s a wonderful experience. Going 1:41 for a mile and sixteenth. Is that even possible?”

It was, and the victory, Clairiere’s second in a Grade 1 stakes, once again confirmed the benefits of breeding the best to the best. Curlin, of course, was a two-time Horse of the Year for Asmussen and Cavorting, a Bernardini mare, was a three-time Grade 1 winner for Stonestreet who won the Ogden Phipps in 2016.

“She’s really racing royalty,” Asmussen said about the 4-year-old Clairiere, who was second to Letruska in the Apple Blossom Handicap in her last start and was the 4.80-1 third choice Saturday. “A Curlin out of Cavorting. The race she put together today was beautiful. This was a tremendous stage for her.”

As for Echo Zulu, who was scratched when Rosario sensed she was not warming up properly, Asmussen said X-rays did not reveal a problem.

“We had (the veterinarian) X-ray her and everything was clean,” Asmussen said. “That was completely out of our hands. The main thing is that she’s okay.”–Bob Ehalt

Casa Creed Rallies Late, Repeats in Jaipur

Casa Creed (left) gets up late in the Jaipur. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Casa Creed didn’t get as hot of a contested pace in the $400,000 Jaipur Stakes at Belmont Park as he did in winning the 2021 edition, but he didn’t need it to repeat.

Saving ground on the turn under Luis Saez and cutting the corner into the stretch of the six-furlong turf race, he was able to reel in front-runners Arrest Me Red and True Valour for a half-length score. He became just the second horse in the 39-year history of the Jaipur to repeat following Belmont Park-loving Disco Partner in 2017-18.

Casa Creed ran six furlongs in 1:07.44 over a firm turf course, quicker than his 1:08.04 clocking last year over “good” ground.

“It’s great to get back-to-back wins in the Jaipur with him,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “He’s a neat horse. He’s a real warrior who’s gotten better with age.

“We finally found out what he wants to do. He wants to run in the Jaipur every year.”

The Jaipur served as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint coming up Nov. 5 at Keeneland. It is a race Casa Creed skipped last year at Del Mar in favor of the longer FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PDJF, where he ran a close eighth. The off-the-pace runner has run exclusively between six furlongs and a mile since 2021.

“He really needs more than five, 5 ½ furlongs,” Mott said of the 6-year-old son of Jimmy Creed.

Arrest Me Red inched a half-length past True Valour for the place.

Casa Creed improved to 6-4-4 in 26 starts in winning the Jaipur, elevating his earnings to $1,428,308 million for Mike Francesa’s JEH Racing Stable and Lee Einsidler’s LRE Racing. The horse won for the first time since last year’s Jaipur, ending a five-race losing streak.–Byron King

Tribhuvan Posts Upset in Manhattan, Giving Chad Brown Fourth in a Row

Longshot Tribhuvan provided the biggest surprise on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 11 by wiring a classy field in the $750,000 Resorts World Manhattan Stakes. The 19.10-1 shot set a moderate pace in the ¼-race and was not threatened late, defeating stablemate Adhamo by 3 ½ lengths. He gave trainer Chad Brown a fourth consecutive win in the Manhattan, and Brown’s seventh in the last nine runnings and 10th overall.

With Manny Franco aboard, Tribhuvan broke on the lead and benefited from a poor start by 2020 champion turf male Channel Maker, who left the gate slowly from the far outside post and was not able to assume his usual forwardly-placed position. With no pressure, the 6-year-old Toronado gelding kept a clear advantage through the far turn and into the stretch, and by the time closers Adhamo, third-place Gufo, and others began their rallies there was scant real estate remaining. Tribhuvan finished 1 ¼ miles in 1:59.54 over a turf course rated as firm.

Owned by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, Wonder Stables, and Michael Caruso, Tribhuvan improved to six wins from 23 career starts. The Manhattan broke a three-race winless streak dating back to last summer, when he led from start to finish to win the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Regal Glory Powers Clear to Take Just a Game

Peter Brant’s top-class Regal Glory tallied her fourth consecutive graded stakes victory and her second Grade 1 in a row with a rallying score in the $500,000 Longines Just a Game Stakes on turf at Belmont Park. The 6-year-old Animal Kingdom mare capitalized on fast early fractions to take command in midstretch of the one-mile Just a Game and win by 3 ½ lengths over fellow closer Wakanaka. The 7-5 second betting choice finished the mile in a sharp 1:32 with regular rider Jose Ortiz in the saddle.

Trained by Chad Brown, Regal Glory has kept excellent form going back to fall 2020 and has been at her best over the past seven months. She entered the Just a Game off of wins in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes last fall, the Grade 3 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational Stakes Presented by PEPSI in January, and the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley Stakes in April at Keeneland. Regal Glory improved her career record to 12-4-0 in 19 starts with $2,111,009 in earnings.

Jack Christopher Dominates Woody Stephens

Jack Christopher reaffirmed his status as one of the best 3-year-olds in training with a pulverizing 10-length win in the $400,000 Woody Stephens Stakes Presented by Mohegan Sun. The 3-year-old Munnings colt owned by Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant had made a smashing 2022 comeback in the Pat Day Mile Stakes Presented by LG & E at Churchill Downs on May 7 after missing the 2021 Breeders’ Cup and this year’s Kentucky Derby prep season due to a ligament injury, and he backed his 3 ¾-length win in the Pat Day up with an even more impressive score in the Woody Stephens, finishing seven furlongs in 1:21.18.

After breaking on the lead, Jack Christopher yielded the pace to longshot Provocateur and, on cue from regular rider Jose Ortiz, he coasted past that foe and assumed command at the top of Belmont’s stretch. He extended his lead powerfully through the final furlong and was geared down late by Ortiz. Pappacap, second to Jack Christopher in the Pat Day Mile, checked in a distant second again.

Chad Brown-trained Jack Christopher improved to a perfect four wins in as many starts and boosted his earnings to $841,400.

“This horse is an exceptional talent,” Brown said. “This is my 15th year of training and I’ve never had a dirt horse with this much pure brilliance. He reminds me a lot of Ghostzapper when I worked for Bobby Frankel. He’s a brilliant horse that can probably run any distance.”

Matareya Romps in Acorn, Echo Zulu Scratched

Matareya extended her unbeaten streak in 2022 to four and also picked up her first Grade 1 victory in the $500,000 Acorn Stakes, the first graded stakes race on Belmont Park’s stacked June 11 card.

The 3-year-old Pioneerof the Nile filly made short work of three opponents as the 3-10 favorite and cruised to a 6 ¼-length score in the one-mile Acorn, finishing up in 1:35.77 with Flavien Prat aboard. She improved her overall career record to five wins in eight starts with earnings of $946,867 for owner-breeder Godolphin and trainer Brad Cox. Matareya had won a Grade 3 stakes at Keeneland and a Grade 2 at Churchill Downs leading up to the Acorn.

Echo Zulu, 2021’s champion juvenile filly, was scratched just prior to the Acorn after showing signs of discomfort while warming up.

Fearless Finishes Strong to Take Brooklyn

Repole Stable’s Fearless outfinished defending winner Lone Rock in the homestretch to win the $400,000 Brooklyn Stakes on the June 11 Belmont Stakes undercard. Ridden by Luis Saez, the 6-year-old Ghostzapper gelding stalked the pace in the 1 ½-mile Brooklyn, sitting just behind Lone Rock in third through the first mile, and engaged that foe at the top of the lane for a brief stretch duel before drawing clear and winning by 2 ¾ lengths. Warrant came from farther back to edge Lone Rock by a neck for second. The final time was 2:30.45.

Fearless won the Grade 3 Ghostzapper Stakes earlier this year at Gulfstream Park. The Todd Pletcher trainee improved his career record to seven wins in 16 starts and $1,126,450 in earnings.

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