by Jon White
December 30, 2021
Flightline was absolutely, positively dazzling in last Sunday’s Grade I Malibu Stakes on the opening-day card of Santa Anita’s winter-spring meeting.
How dazzling? His performance undoubtedly caused many jaws to drop on the part of those who watched him in person, on television, on a computer, on a cell phone or using any other kind of device.
How dazzling? His trainer, John Sadler, said Monday in Ed Golden’s Santa Anita stable notes that “all has to go right, but we might be looking at a historic-type horse before it’s all over.” Sadler compared training Flightline at this stage to being LeBron James’ high school basketball coach.
How dazzling? Flightline won in isolated splendor by 11 1/2 lengths. So far his rear end pretty much is all his opponents have seen when running against him. He’s won three career starts by a combined 37 1/2 lengths. As for his rear end, it has quite a scar on it, stemming from an incident early in 2020 at Mayberry Farm in Ocala, Fla. Bloodstock agent David Ingordo, who was instrumental in Flightline fetching $1 million at public auction, was visiting that farm one morning when he heard “this big crash, a loud bang,” he told Ray Paulick of the Paulick Report. Flightline “scared himself, something startled him. He had his tack on and was ready to go out, but caught his butt on a stall door latch. It was a pretty deep wound and took a long time to heal.”
How dazzling? Flightline’s final time of 1:21.37 for seven furlongs was considerably faster (approximately 15 lengths faster) than Kalypso’s 1:24.78 clocking in her 4 3/4-length win the Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at the same distance on the same card.
How dazzling? Though Flightline ran fast, he was pure poetry in motion. He won so effortlessly that it literally was nothing more than a stroll through the park -- Santa Anita Park.
How dazzling? Consider what Flightline’s rider, Flavien Prat, said after winning by such a big margin and in such a splendid time. “I was in cruise control the whole race, galloping freely,” Prat said.
How dazzling? Flightline made six quality -- repeat, quality -- other Malibu participants look like they were bottom-level claimers.
How dazzling? Flightline registered a whopping 118 Beyer Speed Figure. It’s the top Beyer of the year, surpassing Baby Yoda’s 114 in a Sept. 4 race at Saratoga and the 114 recorded by Flightline in a Sept. 5 race at Del Mar.
How dazzling? Flightline not only became only the sixth horse since 2004 to record three triple-digit Beyers in their first three career starts, his average Beyer of 112.33 for the three races is the best of the six horses (Flightline 112.33, Discreet Cat 111.00, Roman Threat 105.67, Lost in the Fog 104.67, Atreides 104.00 and Justify 104.00). That’s according to what Ed DeRosa wrote for horseracingnation.com.
How dazzling? Flightline’s 118 Beyer was higher than all but two of the many Breeders’ Cup winners at Santa Anita in 2003, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019. The only two of those many Breeders’ Cup winners to get a bigger Beyer Speed Figure than Flightline’s 118 were Cajun Beat, who recorded a 120 in the 2003 Sprint, and Arrogate, who likewise received a 120 in the 2016 Classic.
How dazzling? Flightline recorded the highest Beyer Speed Figure by a Malibu winner going back to 1991, the first year that Beyers for this race are listed in the American Racing Manual. The previous top Beyer by a Malibu winner going back to 1991 had been Powis’ Castle’s 113 all the way back in 1994.
How dazzling? Flightline made a huge $1 million purchase price appear to be a tremendous bargain.
How dazzling? Flightline’s performance stimulated a number of Twitter tributes, such as tweets by:
--Broadcaster Britney Eurton (Flightline = Freak. “That gave me goosebumps” -- Flavien Prat. Us too…Us too!)
--New York broadcaster Andy Serling (Flightline gallops home in 1:21.37 in his expected Malibu triumph. That’s 3.42 seconds faster than the La Brea. He is an absolute monster. Maybe better than advertised. Wow!)
--David Aragona, my morning-line oddsmaker counterpart at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga (Flightline possesses the sort of talent we’ve seen only a handful of times over the past few decades. I just hope he stays healthy so we get to see him strut his stuff in even more prestigious races next year.)
--Churchill Downs track announcer Travis Stone (I’m trying to think of a more powerful and impressive performance and keep going all the way back to Ghostzapper. It’s high praise but what Flightline just did is worthy of it. Wow!)
--1stbet.com analyst and handicapper Jeff Siegel (Fortunate to have seen in person Buckpasser win the Malibu in 1966, Damascus in ’68 and Spectacular Bid in 1980. All became Horse of the Year. Flightline has that type of talent but there’s still plenty of work to be done. With @johnsadler in charge, he’ll have his chance)
BEST MALE SPRINTER OF 2021?
Of course, if it’s horse racing, then it’s a given that there will be those who see the cup as half empty. For instance, John Perrotta, author of several books on racing, tweeted Sunday in an obvious reference to Flightline: “I wish everyone flinging the superlatives today had been around to see Dr Fager.”
Yes, Dr. Fager unquestionably was one of the all-time greats. I have Dr. Fager ranked No. 7 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century to have raced in North America. My Top 10 consists of 1. Man o’ War, 2. Secretariat, 3. Citation, 4. Kelso, 5. Spectacular Bid, 6. Native Dancer, 7. Dr. Fager, 8. Seattle Slew, 9. Count Fleet and 10. Affirmed.
Look, I agree with the notion that Flightline, at this point anyway, is not on a par with Dr. Fager. And while I consider it doubtful that Flightline will go on and make the case that he is in the same league with Dr. Fager, at this point it’s also not impossible for him to do so.
In any event, speaking for myself, I will go so far as to say that I have not seen a better sprinter this year than Flightline.
This is exactly why I wait until after the year’s major racing is completed before filling out my Eclipse Awards ballot. In light of what happened in the Malibu, my vote for champion male sprinter now will go to Flightline.
I am sure that there will be lots of support among Eclipse Award voters for Aloha West as champion male sprinter. After all, he won the BC Sprint by a nose over Dr. Schivel. Will I criticize anyone who votes for Aloha West? I certainly won’t.
But as someone voting for Flightline, I will point out what Flightline did vs. Dr. Schivel compared to what Aloha West did against that same foe.
Dr. Schivel came within a nose of Aloha West. In the Malibu, Dr. Schivel finished seventh, 19 1/2 lengths behind Flightline.
In fairness to Dr. Schivel, an explanation for such a poor performance on his part in Sunday’s Malibu could be that he was showing signs of illness Monday morning, as Mark Glatt said in a Daily Racing Form story written by Steve Andersen.
“He had a temperature [Monday morning],” Glatt said. “I don’t think he’s sick-sick. We’ll see how he comes out of it in the next few days. It seems to be a viral thing. He might be coming down with something.”
Andersen went on to write that even with a top performance, Glatt thought Dr. Schivel would have been a “distant second” in the Malibu. Flightline’s win left Glatt in awe.
“That’s the most impressive horse I’ve seen with my own eyeballs,” said Glatt. “I was born the year Secretariat won the [Kentucky] Derby. I’ve seen footage. I’ve never witnessed a performance like that.”
Dr. Schivel was a Grade I and Grade II winner this year. He defeated older rivals both times.
Will I criticize anyone who votes for Jackie’s Warrior as champion male sprinter? I certainly won’t. After Jackie’s Warrior won one Grade I sprint and three Grade II races this year, he was sent off as the 1-2 favorite in the BC Sprint. And if he had won the BC Sprint, I probably would be voting for him as champion male sprinter.
But Jackie’s Warrior ran SIXTH in the BC Sprint, 4 1/2 lengths behind Aloha West and Dr. Schivel. Again, that’s the same Dr. Schivel who finished far behind Flightline in the Malibu.
My guess is Flightline will not be voted champion male sprinter because of not making more than three starts during the year. That’s fine. I get it. I just think the “needs-to-make-a-lot-of-starts” argument does not hold much water these days when horses do not race as often or as much as they once did.
Keep in mind Flightline does have as many Grade I victories to his credit this year as Aloha West and Jackie’s Warrior. Each one of these 3-year-old colts won exactly one Grade I race in 2021.
My vote for Flightline despite the fact that he made only three starts during the year reminds me of a somewhat similar situation in 1976. It was the first year I had the honor to be an Eclipse Award voter. My vote for champion 2-year-old male of 1976 went to Seattle Slew, who had made just three starts that year.
In my view, Seattle Slew’s scintillating 9 3/4-length win in the one-mile Champagne Stakes demonstrated that he was head-and-shoulders above the other 2-year-olds of 1976. In the Champagne, he trounced the highly regarded For the Moment. With a final clocking in the Champagne of 1:34 2/5, Seattle Slew at that time had run the fastest mile in history by a 2-year-old.
“Seasoned observers shook their heads in admiration as he completed his mile in 1:34 2/5,” Joe Hirsch wrote of Seattle Slew’s Champagne triumph in the American Racing Manual. “Thirty-four years earlier, another free-running colt named Count Fleet won the Champagne with a 1:34 4/5 clocking that remained a record for 2-year-olds for many years. Count Fleet, of course, went on to sweep the Triple Crown races at 3.”
Also to Seattle Slew’s credit, he won all three of his races at 2 in the span of just 27 days.
But there were many who felt that the 1976 Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male should have gone to Royal Ski or Run Dusty Run because they had raced a lot more than Seattle Slew.
Run Dusty Run and Royal Ski each made nine starts at 2. They each won six races.
It turned out that Seattle Slew was indeed voted champion 2-year-old male. In the book “Seattle Slew,” author Frank Cady noted that Run Dusty Run’s trainer, Smiley Adams, was irked that the Eclipse Award went to someone who did not race more.
“Seattle Who?” Cady quoted Adams as saying. “It don’t matter how easy he did it, he only had three races. It’s not right.”
Seattle Slew, like the aforementioned Count Fleet, was a 2-year-old champion who went on to sweep the Triple Crown the following year.
By the way, in 2014, yours truly and Millie Ball interviewed Billy Turner, who was Seattle Slew’s trainer in 1976 and 1977. Turner joined us by phone on HRTV’s “Race Day America.”
During that interview, much to my surprise, Turner revealed that he actually had received some hate mail when Seattle Slew was a 3-year-old.
“If Seattle Slew doesn’t win the Triple Crown, then I haven’t done my job,” Turner recalled saying when Slew was 3. Evidently, that statement rubbed some fans of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat the wrong way, a sentiment they expressed in the form of hate mail to Turner.
How sad is that? How could anyone have been so blinded by their love of Secretariat that they could not appreciate Seattle Slew’s greatness and the outstanding job Turner did training the colt?
At least Turner is fortunate that the Secretariat lovers/Seattle Slew haters did not have social media at their disposal back in 1977.
GOFUNDME PAGE FOR BILLY TURNER
Speaking of Seattle Slew and his trainer in both 1976 and 1977, a GoFundMe page has been set up to help Turner manage rising medical costs associated with rapidly spreading cancer.
Turner “was diagnosed with prostate cancer almost two years ago, which also had spread to and weakened his bones,” Pavla Nygaard wrote on the GoFundMe page. “He was admitted to the hospital Dec. 17, 2021, after he was suffering significant shortness of breath. There was a lot of fluid drained from his lungs. Unfortunately, testing of the fluid revealed that his cancer spread to his lungs. He has chosen not to receive further treatment for his cancer. On Monday, Dec. 27, he will be transferred home for hospice care. He is in good spirits and looking forward to being back with his wife Pat and in the comfort of a home environment.”
Pavla and her husband, Erik, have known Turner and his wife since 2006.
“Billy had trained a handful of horses for us prior to his retirement from training, including the very first racehorse we ever brought, Play It True, who won her first race,” Pavla wrote.
Play It True, a Yes It’s True filly, won a six-furlong maiden special weight race by 1 1/2 lengths in a 55-1 upset when unveiled at Aqueduct on Nov. 5, 2006.
“As a brilliant yet introverted trainer who was always comfortable with horses but not always so around people or quite ready for the fame that followed him throughout the Triple Crown trail, Billy battled a few demons with alcohol addiction over points in his lifetime, yet succeeded slaying that dragon with his wife and diligent AA meetings,” Pavla wrote. “Billy is an exceptional horseman who had touched the lives of many others in the Thoroughbred industry. His stories of Seattle Slew’s journey through the challenging 1977 Triple Crown winning campaign have shown a deep understanding and love of the horse, training the horse as an individual rather than fitting him into a program. Seattle Slew’s legend lives on through many Thoroughbred individuals in racing, as well as those in Thoroughbreds who have found careers outside of racing.”
As a matter of fact, Seattle Slew’s name appears in Flightline’s pedigree. Flightline is by Tapit, who in turn is by Pulpit, who in turn is by A.P. Indy, who in turn is by Seattle Slew.
“Billy and Pat are facing increased healthcare costs, moving costs and unforeseen costs relating to his upcoming hospice care and beyond,” Pavla wrote.
“The world of racing owes much to Billy Turner’s masterful guidance of Seattle Slew and his legacy. It will mean much to Billy to have the financial support of his and Seattle Slew’s fans, as well as prayers and words of encourangement.”
The Nygaards pledged to match up to $10,000 of the funds raised.
SHAM STAKES SELECTIONS
Not surprisingly, Bob Baffert holds a strong hand in Saturday’s Grade III Sham Stakes. The Hall of Famer has entered Grade III Nashua Stakes winner Rockefeller and the promising Newgrange.
Baffert won the Sham in 2020 with Authentic and in 2021 with Life Is Good.
Authentic would go on to win the Grade I Kentucky Derby and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic en route to being voted 2020 Horse of the Year.
Life Is Good subsequently won Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes for Baffert in March. After that, Life Is Good captured the Grade II Kelso Handicap in September and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
Baffert’s seven Sham victories is the record for a trainer. His other winners of the race were Wild and Wise (2001), Bob and John (2006), Midnight Hawk (2014), Collected (2016) and McKinzie (2018).
Rockefeller has won two of three career starts. He exited the maiden ranks by 2 1/4 lengths going six furlongs at Del Mar on Aug. 28, ran fourth in Santa Anita’s Grade I American Pharoah Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 1, then won the one-mile Nashua by 2 3/4 lengths on Nov. 7.
Newgrange, a Kentucky-bred Violence colt, goes into the Sham off a 1 1/2-length debut win in a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Del Mar on Nov 28.
I’m going to take a shot and make Oviatt Class my top pick in the Sham. Trained by Keith Desormeaux, Oviatt Class lost his first two races, then won a one-mile maiden special weight contest by 4 1/4 lengths at Del Mar on Aug. 27.
Oviatt Class gave a good account of himself when he ran third in the American Pharoah. He not only beat Rockefeller that day, he showed late energy on a track that was not kind to come-from-behind runners. In other words, Oviatt Class’s effort that day was better than it looks on paper.
It also should be noted that the one-two finishers in the American Pharoah, Corniche and Pappacap, came back to finish one-two in the same order in the Grade I BC Juvenile at Del Mar on Nov. 5. Oviatt Class ended up in a dead heat for fifth in the BC Juvenile, but he did not have the best of trips that day.
The one time they have met, Oviatt Class outran Rockefeller by 3 1/4 lengths on the same track they will be racing on this Saturday. So why not go with Oviatt Class in the Sham when he probably will be a better price than Rockefeller?
Mackinnon is an intriguing Sham entrant. He’s switching to the dirt after finishing third in the Grade I BC Juvenile Turf at Del Mar on Nov. 5. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup, he had reeled off three consecutive grass victories, including the Del Mar Juvenile Turf on Sept. 6 and Zuma Beach at Santa Anita on Oct. 3.
Trained by Doug O’Neill, Mackinnon finished fourth in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight sprint at Santa Anita on May 9. That was his first race, though. He’s eligible to do much better on the dirt this time, especially inasmuch as he is a son of American Pharoah, who was a Triple Crown winner on dirt in 2015.
Completing the field of five in the Sham is Degree of Risk, who will be competing on dirt for the first time. In his most recent start, the Kentucky-bred Cairo Prince ridgling ran second in the Gold Rush Stakes on a synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields on Dec. 4.
In his only start in a graded stakes race to date, Degree of Risk finished third in Woodbine’s Grade I Summer Stakes on turf Sept. 19 for trainer Eoin Harty.
Below are my selections for the Sham:
1. Oviatt Class
EDUARDO INDA PASSES WAY
It was with much sadness that I read in last Sunday’s Santa Anita’s stable notes that Eduardo Inda had passed away on Dec. 22, according to his family. He was 78.
Inda trained Riboletta, who was voted a 2000 Eclipse Award as champion older female.
But even though Inda trained a multiple Grade I-winning champion in Riboletta, he probably is best known as Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally’s assistant all through during the glory years of the great gelding John Henry, a huge fan favorite.
I got to know Inda quite well in the early 1980s. I was a reporter/columnist for the Daily Racing Form on the Southern California circuit during that time. As such, it was incumbent on me to visit the McAnally barn just about every single day all year long. The main purpose of the visit always was to check on John Henry, who was such a big deal in those days that he warranted such daily attention from a DRF reporter/columnist.
The DRF’s current national correspondent, Jay Privman (selected to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor next year), put it quite well when, in his obituary on Inda, he described him as “a kind, friendly man with a ready laugh.”
The job that McAnally, Inda and exercise rider Lewis Cenicola did with John Henry was nothing less than spectacular. For Team McAnally, John Henry won seven Eclipse Awards, including Horse of the Year titles in 1981 and 1984. The only horse to win more Eclipse Awards, a total of eight, was another great gelding, Forego.
When John Henry was voted Horse of the Year in 1984, he was a 9-year-old. I’ve said it many times before and I will say it again that I seriously doubt we will ever see another 9-year-old Horse of the Year.
John Henry was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
Inda first worked for trainer Warren Stute prior to his more than 20 years alongside McAnally. During his time with McAnally, Inda also played a key role in the care of such Eclipse Award winners as Bayakoa, Paseana and Tight Spot.
After retiring from training a decade ago, Inda continued to live near Santa Anita.
Cenicola died of liver and pancreatic cancer at the age of 66 on Jan. 8, 2012.
McAnally, now 89, remains an active trainer of what is now a small stable at Santa Anita.