Flightline is a freak. No question. When a horse wins its first four races by a combined 43 1/2 lengths, yeah, he’s a freak. What’s scary is he’s only getting better. His win in the Met Mile on June 11, while his shortest margin of victory, was his best race considering he had to overcome trouble and still dominated the field.
The 4-year-old son of Tapit is the hottest horse on the planet. The latest Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings have him on top with 25 first-place votes. Second? Olympiad with five first-place votes. The NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll also has Flightline atop its rankings with 25 first-place votes, ahead of Olympiad’s six.
But here’s a question to ponder: If Flightline races only three times this year, will some Eclipse Award voters shy away from giving him their Horse of the Year vote? It’s a valid question, and one that has to be considered.
Since the Eclipse Awards were instituted in 1971, no horse has won Horse of the Year with three or fewer starts. Ghostzapper, Horse of the Year in 2004, raced only four times. He didn’t start his campaign until July 2, winning the Tom Fool Handicap at Belmont Park, and then went on to win the Iselin Breeders’ Cup Handicap and Woodward Stakes before concluding his year with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Flightline’s races have been pretty well spaced out during his short career. He debuted at Santa Anita on April 24 of last year and then didn’t reappear until Sept. 5 at Del Mar because he was laid up with a foot abscess. He didn’t race again until the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita and then, because of a minor issue with a hind leg, didn’t resurface until his most recent outing, a six-length romp in the Met Mile at Belmont Park.
If this pattern holds true, Flightline would skip the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 1 and go straight to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Keeneland. Maybe he’s just so speedy that he needs more time between races. He’s been compared to Ghostzapper, and that seems to be an apt comparison. The latter raced only 11 times in his career, winning nine, and both horses had the “wow factor” in their favour.
It says here that if Flightline wins the Pacific Classic on Sept. 3 at Del Mar and goes on to boost his career mark to 6-0 with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he’ll be crowned Horse of the Year despite racing only three times. He will have proven to be that dominant, and with no Triple Crown champion this year, it will be hard to deny him the most prestigious of Eclipse Awards despite a light campaign.
Perhaps the most amazing of all Horse of the Year winners was Lady’s Secret, the 1986 winner who was a daughter of the great Secretariat. She raced 15 times during her Horse of the Year campaign, beating males four times and winning 10 graded stakes, eight of which were Grade I events. Only Cigar, during his unbeaten season in 1995, matched the eight Grade I’s in one year.
Here’s a quick glance at how I view the Horse of the Year race as we round the far turn and head into the stretch:
1. Flight line
The best horse in training. Period. He only has to prove he can go two turns, and his jockey, Flavien Prat, doesn’t think that will be a problem. This guy has raced only four times, but we could be watching one of the all-time greats. Time will tell.
2. Country Grammar
He already won the Dubai World Cup. If he adds the Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup Classic, he’ll be Horse of the Year. He finished second in last weekend’s San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, but he needs more distance and a mile and a quarter is right up his alley.
The 4-year-old son of Speightstown only needs to show he can beat Grade I company. He’s 5-0 this year. If he defeats the likes of Life Is Good, Hot Rod Charlie and Americanrevolution in Saturday’s Grade I Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, he’ll also control his own destiny in the Horse of the Year race.
4. Life Is Good
There are skeptics who are down on this 4-year-old Into Mischief colt because he faded in the stretch of the Dubai World Cup and finished fourth. Authentic did something similar in 2020, barely holding on in the stretch to win the Haskell Stakes and then winning the Kentucky Derby after skeptics said he couldn’t go a mile and a quarter.
5. Jackie’s Warrior
Already a two-time Grade I stakes winner in 2022, the Steve Asmussen-trained Maclean’s Music colt could make it four this year if he wins the Forego on Aug. 27 at Saratoga and then concludes his 4-year-old campaign with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73