Last Saturday morning at Santa Anita Park, fabulous Flightline treated early risers to yet another smoothly executed, picture-perfect workout for trainer John Sadler.
Flightline was the first horse to work after the 6:30 renovation break “as his flawless preparation continues for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Keeneland,” Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free wrote.
As usual, assistant trainer and regular exercise rider Juan Leyva was aboard Flightline for last Saturday’s workout, which can be viewed on XBTV.
Flightline was given an official workout time of 1:12.40 for six furlongs.
According to Free, Sader timed Flightline in :24.20 for the first quarter, :36.20 for three furlongs, :48.00 for a half-mile, 1:00.40 for five furlongs and 1:12.60 for six furlongs, on out seven furlongs in 1:25.80.
“We’re not looking for anything fancy at this point, just a nice, steady work, and we were right on point today,” Sadler said. “The next two works will be a little more important. He’s right on schedule.”
Flightline has been pure poetry in motion in his workouts and races. He has won all five of his races by an astounding combined margin of 62 3/4 lengths.
Prior to last Saturday’s workout, Leyva provided some background to Free regarding Flightline’s development “since he commenced racetrack training early last year,” as Free put it.
“The difference is his behavior going to the track,” Leyva said of the 4-year-old Tapit superstar. “He used to play a lot going up there, now he just walks quietly. Obviously in his works, he is much more settled. He is not trying to run off.”
Flightline will go into the BC Classic off a spectacular 19 1/4-length win in Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic on Sept. 3. NBC racing commentator Randy Moss has called that the greatest performance in American racing since the legendary Secretariat’s 31-length triumph in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
About 10 hours after Flightline’s workout last Saturday, on that very same Santa Anita one-mile oval, another exceptional equine athlete, 2-year-old Cave Rock, cruised to a 5 1/4-length victory in the Grade I American Pharoah Stakes.
In making the morning line for the American Pharoah, I installed Cave Rock as a 4-5 favorite, with Hejazi the second choice at 5-2.
The DRF’s Free expressed his disagreement with the morning line odds of 4-5 for Cave Rock and 5-2 for Hejazi to Steve Byk on Byk’s SiriuxXM radio program At the Races last Friday. Free said that he “wouldn’t be surprised if they are a lot closer than that, maybe 6-5 and 7-5,” adding that he thought that Hejazi “could be under 2-1.”
Well, as it turned out, Hejazi was not under 2-1. His final odds were higher than 2-1. He went off at his morning-line price of 5-2.
Also, contrary to Free’s thinking, the gap between the final odds for Cave Rock and Hejazi was wider, not closer, than their 4-5 and 5-2 prices on the morning line. That’s because Cave Rock was sent away as a 2-5 favorite.
A son of 2016 BC Classic winner Arrogate, Cave Rock undoubtedly will be a strong favorite in the BC Juvenile at Keeneland on Nov. 4.
Nick Tammaro will be setting the morning lines for this year’s Breeders’ Cup, a difficult task that I have done seven times (2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2021). Tammaro has replaced Mike Battaglia as Keeneland’s morning line oddsmaker at this year’s Keeneland fall meet.
According to Tammaro, he imagines Cave Rock will be the shortest-priced morning-line favorite at this year’s Breeders’ Cup not named Flightline. I agree with that assessment.
To illustrate just how impressive Cave Rock was in the American Pharoah, his 104 Beyer is superior to the figure recorded by the horse for which the race is named. American Pharoah received a 101 Beyer Speed Figure when he took the 2014 FrontRunner Stakes.
The name of the FrontRunner Stakes was changed to the American Pharoah Stakes in 2018 to honor the 2015 Triple Crown winner.
Serving as further evidence as to what a marvelous race Cave Rock ran last Saturday, his 104 Beyer is the highest figure in the American Pharoah Stakes since Flame Thrower’s 105 all the way back in 2000 (when the race was called the Norfolk Stakes).
WINNING BEYERS FOR AMERICAN PHAROAH STAKES
Below are the Beyers for winners of the American Pharoah Stakes (formerly the Norfolk Stakes and the FrontRunner Stakes) going back to 1991 (the first year the figures were listed in the American Racing Manual):
2022 Cave Rock (104)
2021 Corniche (85)
2020 Get Her Number (84)
2019 Eight Rings (87)
2018 Game Winner (97)
2017 Bolt d’Oro (100)
2016 Gormley (93)
2015 Nyquist (79)
2014 American Pharoah (101)
2013 Bond Holder (78)
2012 Power Broker (90)
2011 Creative Cause (84)
2010 Jaycito (88)*
2009 Lookin At Lucky (89)*
2008 Street Hero (86)*
2007 Dixie Chatter (86)*
2006 Stormello (96)
2005 Brother Derek (82)
2004 Roman Ruler (87)
2003 Ruler’s Court (102)
2002 Kafwain (92)
2001 Essence of Dubai (93)
2000 Flame Thrower (105)
1999 Dixie Union (104)
1998 Buck Trout (87)
1997 Souvenir Copy (100)
1996 Free House (92)
1995 Future Quest (94)
1994 Supremo (87)
1993 Shepherd’s Field (87)
1992 River Special (93)
1991 Bertrando (95)
*Run on synthetic footing
BAFFERT INCREASES WIN TOTAL TO 11
This year’s American Pharoah Stakes produced a Bob Baffert 1-2-3-4 finish. The 10-cent Baffert superfecta paid $4.75. The 50-cent Baffert trifecta paid $7.90. The $1 Baffert exacta paid $7.10.
Thanks to Cave Rock, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has now won the Norfolk-FrontRunner-American Pharoah Stakes a record total of 11 times: (Souvenir Copy in 1997, Flame Thrower in 2000, Kafwain in 2002, Roman Ruler in 2004, Lookin At Lucky in 2009, Power Broker in 2012, American Pharoah in 2014, Game Winner in 2018, Eight Rings in 2019, Corniche in 2021 and Cave Rock in 2022).
Baffert has enjoyed even more success in the Del Mar Futurity. No trainer has dominated any of this country’s current Grade I races to such an extent as Baffert with his number of Del Mar Futurity wins. Cave Rock provided Baffert with his 15th Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 11.
If this were the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball, the fact that Baffert holds the record for most wins in any of this country’s current Grade I races would be publicized and promoted. But this is horse racing, which means practically no one is aware of Baffert holding the national record for most wins by a trainer in any of this country’s current Grade I races.
LANDALUCE BOOK SIGNINGS AT SANTA ANITA OCT. 15-16
This Sunday the Anoakia Stakes is scheduled to be run at Santa Anita. It was 40 years ago that Landaluce ran in the Anoakia. Sent away as the 1-10 favorite, she won by 10 lengths while completing seven furlongs in a stakes record 1:21 4/5.
Rare Thrill finished a distant second. She was owned by actor Vic Tayback, best known for playing the role of Mel in the television comedy “Alice.”
Tayback told me that it was his biggest thrill as a horse owner to see his filly finish second to Landaluce.
Landaluce would race only once more following the Anoakia. She won the Grade I Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 23, but then died on the morning of Nov. 28 from a severe bacterial infection.
D. Wayne Lukas trained Landaluce, who “evoked legitimate comparisons to Ruffian,” Steven Crist wrote in the Daily Racing Form book “Champions.” Ruffian is widely considered to be the greatest female Thoroughbred to ever race in this country.
Landaluce won her five career starts by a combined 46 1/2 lengths, including a sensational 21-length victory in the six-furlong Hollywood Lassie Stakes at Hollywood Park.
Mary Perdue, author of the new book “Landaluce: The Story of Seattle Slew’s First Champion,” will be at Santa Anita this weekend (Oct. 15-16) for a book signing.
I had the honor of writing the foreword for Perdue’s wonderful book and will be joining her at Santa Anita for this weekend’s book signings.
SOUMILLON, LEON CONJUR UP MEMORIES OF YCAZA
There has been much talk in racing circles regarding the recent actions of jockeys Christophe Soumillon in France and Sonny Leon in Kentucky.
On Sept. 30, Soumillion elbowed colleague Rossa Ryan right out of his saddle in a race at St. Cloud. Soumillon, 41, was hit with a 60-day suspension.
Many believe Soumillion’s penalty should have been harsher.
On Oct. 1, Leon is seen on the head-on shot of the race replay leaning left and elbowing rival rider Tyler Gaffalione in deep stretch of the Grade II Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs. Leon insisted that his saddle his slipped.
Leon, riding Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, finished second when losing by a head to Hot Rod Charlie and Gaffalione.
Despite what occurred between Rich Strike and Hot Rod Charlie in the final furlong, the stewards did not post the inquiry sign. It’s the general consensus that if Rich Strike had finished first, he would have been disqualified and placed second.
Churchill stewards sanctioned Leon with a 15-day suspension. Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee wrote that Leon’s agent, Bryce Soth, said he was informed by Barbara Borden, chief steward in Kentucky, that the penalty “was a lengthy one” because of the “egregious nature” of the incident.
Again, many believe Leon’s penalty should have been harsher.
For me, this all brought to mind an article about jockey Manny Ycaza in the September 1970 Turf and Sport Digest magazine. I have saved that edition of the magazine, which has a photo of Ycaza on the cover, for all these many decades.
On Ycaza’s Wikipedia page, it accurately states that “the hard-riding, fiery-tempered Ycaza was frequently in trouble with racing officials.”
The 1970 magazine article on Ycaza was written by Jack Mann. Ycaza passed away in 2018 at the age of 80. Mann died in 2000 at the age of 74.
Despite incurring so many fines and suspension, Ycaza’s talent and accomplishments landed him in the national Hall of Fame in 1977. In 2021, Mann was posthumously selected to the national Hall of Fame’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor.
If you watch football, you know that a flag sometimes is thrown for unnecessary roughness. Probably no jockey in the history of horse racing has been penalized more for unnecessary roughness than Ycaza.
Accompanying Mann’s 1970 article on Ycaza was a full page that listed, in small print, “the fines and suspensions of Manuel Ycaza.” When I have worked as a steward in Washington, Idaho and California in the past, I sometimes have shared a copy of that page of the magazine showing Ycaza’s numerous penalties with one of my fellow stewards. I always got a kick of the immediate reaction to seeing a full page of fines and suspensions for one jockey.
According to that page in the magazine, the number of Ycaza’s fines and suspensions from 1954 through 1969 totaled 90.
The first penalty listed for Ycaza was a five-day suspension issued on Sept. 9 at the 1954 Del Mar meet for “careless riding and interference.”
Just one day later, Del Mar stewards meted out an additional five-day suspension to Ycaza for “careless riding.”
Those were Ycaza’s only two penalties in 1954. He received none in 1955.
In 1956, Ycaza received a total of 10 fines or suspensions, all at Hipodomo de las Americas in Mexico City, beginning with a fine of 100 pesos for a “frivolous claim of foul.”
Ycaza’s highest fine in 1956, 400 pesos on May 10, was for “illegal use of whip.” His longest suspension that year, 30 days, was issued on May 24 for “continuous rough riding and interference.”
After Ycaza received that 30-day suspension in 1956, did he change his behavior in the saddle to stay out of trouble? Nope. He subsequently received two fines and four more suspension in 1956. His 1956 suspensions are below:
July 19: 5 days for “swerving in and impeding two horses.”
Aug. 19: 10 days for “careless riding.”
Oct. 21: 15 days for “allowing mount to drift in and interference.”
Dec. 15: 10 days for “failing to keep mount straight.”
When Ycaza began riding full time in the United States toward the end of 1957, he continued to find himself in hot water with stewards while piling up fines and suspensions.
On May 20, 1962, long before Soumillon and Leon’s elbowing incidents, Pimlico stewards handed Ycaza a 10-day suspension, a $200 fine and a recommendation to the Maryland Racing Commission of an additional 10-day suspension when the rider was cited for “unfair tactics, locking elbows with another jockey in race, frivolous claim of foul” in the Preakness Stakes.
On May 25, the Maryland Racing Commission not only upheld the original 10-day suspension and $200 fine issued by the stewards on May 20, it approved the recommended additional 10-day suspension.
Jay Hovdey, who like Mann is a member of the national Hall of Fame’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor, recently wrote about the 1962 Preakness for BloodHorse in connection with Soumillon and Leon’s recent misdeeds.
“All this elbowing and shoving at racing speed has had trivia buffs exhuming past transgressions,” Hovdey wrote. “The standard was set in the 1962 Preakness Stakes by Manuel Ycaza aboard Ridan in their tooth-and-nail stretch battle with John Rotz and Greek Money. Nearing the finish, Ycaza leaned left and poked an elbow into Rotz. Rotz kept riding and won by a nose, which prompted Ycaza to claim foul, reportedly pressured by Ridan’s trainer, Moody Jolley. The stewards laughed that off and gave Ycaza 10 days,” plus the additional 10 days by the Maryland Racing Commission upon the recommendation of the stewards.
After being grounded for a total of 20 days for his behavior in the 1962 Preakness, did Ycaza stay out of trouble? Nope.
Later in 1962 on Sept. 8, the Illinois Racing Commission suspended Ycaza for the remainder of the Illinois racing season through Nov. 17 for “lodging a completely unwarranted claim of foul, implying a charge of collusion against him by a competing entry.”
Ten days later, the Illinois Racing Commission also put Ycaca on probation through Nov. 17 “for imputations upon the character of Mr. Rex C. Ellsworth, the owner of the winning horse in said race, his trainer, Mr. Tenney, and his riders, Messrs. Moreno, Hartack and Shoemaker.”
In the 1968 Jersey Derby at Garden State Park, Ycaza rode the great Dr. Fager, who was an overwhelming favorite in the betting. Dr. Fager broke from the outside post when facing just three opponents.
In the book “Dr. Fager,” Steve Haskin wrote this regarding the 1968 Jersey Derby: “Dr. Fager, favored at 3-10, broke quickly and Ycaza gunned him to the lead. What happened after that will always be a major subject of controversy. As Ycaza cut over entering the clubhouse turn, a traffic jam ensued inside him. First, Air Rights and Gallant Moment bumped twice. Then, In Reality, just inside Dr. Fager, was forced to steady and came in on both those horses at the seven-eighths pole. For a four-horse field, it was an ugly mess. Ycaza went about his business of getting Dr. Fager to the front, and once he accomplished that, the race was all but over.”
Dr. Fager finished first by 6 1/2 lengths, winning “with complete authority,” according to the Daily Racing Form chart. However, Dr. Fager was disqualified and placed fourth (last) for causing interference.
Garden State stewards handed Ycaza a 15-day suspension for causing interference in the Jersey Derby.
Ycaza never rode Dr. Fager again. The following year, in one of the greatest campaigns by a racehorse in American history, Dr. Fager became the first and still only horse to win four titles in a single year. He was voted 1968 Horse of the Year, champion handicap horse, champion sprinter and co-champion grass horse.
Speaking of Dr. Fager, he ranks high on my list of the Top Racehorses of the 20th Century to have won in North America. My Top 25 is below:
1. Man o’ War
5. Spectacular Bid
6. Native Dancer
7. Dr. Fager
8. Seattle Slew
9. Count Fleet
14. Phar Lap
17. Round Table
19. War Admiral*
20. Tom Fool
22. John Henry
*Triple Crown winner
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
The Top 10 for this week is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 360 Flightline (36)
2. 308 Life Is Good
3. 256 Epicenter
4. 215 Nest
5. 180 Olympiad
6. 126 Malathaat
7. 121 Jackie’s Warrior
8. 99 Taiba
9. 70 Hot Rod Charlie
10. 59 War Like Goddess
FINAL LONGINES BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC RANKINGS
Flightline has finished atop the final Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings, receiving all first-place votes in the international poll. He ranked No. 1 each week from the first poll on June 28.
The Top 10 for this year’s final Longines BC Classic rankings is below, followed by my updated early odds for those 10 horses:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 350 Flightline (35)
2. 291 Epicenter
2. 265 Life Is Good
4. 217 Taiba
5. 216 Olympiad
6. 191 Hot Rod Charlie
7. 94 Country Grammer
8. 73 Rich Strike
9. 69 Cyberknife
10. 42 Happy Saver
My Early BC Classic Odds (DRF Early Odds)
2-5 Flightline (4-5)
8-1 Epicenter (8-1)
8-1 Life Is Good (6-1)
10-1 Taiba (8-1)
15-1 Olympiad (15-1)
20-1 Hot Rod Charlie (15-1)
20-1 Country Grammer (20-1)
20-1 Rich Strike (20-1)
20-1 Cyberknife (20-1)
30-1 Happy Saver (20-1)
As I wrote last week, I think Flightline will be closer to 2-5 than the 4-5 Daily Racing Form price listed by Free. Even if Flightline ends up being higher than 2-5, I will be shocked if he’s 4-5 or more. If there was some way to bet on the betting, I’d be willing to make a huge wager that Flightline’s BC Classic odds will be lower than 4-5. And if it looks like Free is right and Flightline won’t be lower than 4-5, I will be making a substantial wager on him.
The record for the BC Classic having the shortest odds is held by Easy Goer, who was 1-2 when he finished second to Sunday Silence in 1989.