Jon White: Flightline's Goosebumps Performance

To call last Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Pacific Classic a race just doesn’t seem right. Was it really a race? No. It was a wipeout.

It was like every single game the USA’s “Dream Team” played at the 1992 Olympics when winning by an average of 44 points while on the way to a gold medal, or when the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers pummeled the Denver Broncos by a score of 55-10 in a Super Bowl played in 1990.

This year’s Pacific Classic produced a victory a la Lyndon Johnson’s landslide win against Barry Goldwater in the 1960 presidential election or when Ronald Reagan carried 49 out of 50 states when defeating Walter Mondale in 1984.

John Sadler trains a four-footed superstar by the name of Flightline. Sadler has said training him is something like coaching LeBron James.

What Flightline did last Saturday at Del Mar turned out about the same as if LeBron played a high school kid in a one-on-one basketball game.

Going into the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic, this question was asked over and over and over: How will Flightline do in his first try going farther than one mile?

Harvey Pack, the popular broadcaster and horseplayer who died last year, said time again that “you should never bet a favorite to do something it hasn’t done before.” Pack’s doctrine was cited by a number of people in terms of Flightline’s attempt to win a Grade I event without having previously raced farther than one mile. The widely held belief was this particular feat had never been achieved in the history of American racing prior to this year’s Pacific Classic.

What Pack said is very true under normal circumstances. But what made the Pacific Classic different is Flightline. He’s far from a normal horse.

Another truism in horse racing is the winner of a race often is the fastest horse in the race. Sometimes it’s just that simple. Going into the Pacific Classic, Beyer Speed Figures said Flightline was clearly the fastest horse in the field.

“Every racehorse, it starts off with, can they go fast? He can go fast and carry it,” Sadler has said of Flightline. “That’s what different. The assumption is, when you have a really fast horse, they can’t carry their speed. But this is just an exceptional horse. He can go good fractions and keep going. That’s really a rare horse.”

And it is a rare horse like a Flightline who can go out there and do something he has never done before, such as win going 1 1/4 miles without having a race longer than one mile under his belt.

Besides being an uncommonly fast racehorse, three factors indicated Flightline might not have any problem with a longer trip in the Pacific Classic. First, in each of his previous races, his lead had increased from the eighth pole to the finish. Second, the way he had galloped out after the finish in those races also was a hint that 1 1/4 miles might not be any issue for him. And third, his breeding suggested that he might well possess the necessary stamina to succeed going 1 1/4 miles.

When starter Tucker Slender pushed the button to send the Pacific Classic runners on their way, Flightline was involved in a bit of bumping leaving the gate, but it was nothing significant. He then vied for the early lead without jockey Flavien Prat having to hustle him to do so.

Flightline was in front by only one length at the half-mile pole, according to the Equibase chart. And then, in not much more time than it takes to say his name, Flightline expanded his advantage. Going into the far turn, his cushion was about five lengths.

Entering the far turn, with Flightline now well clear without having been asked for the slightest bit of speed yet, Prat decided to put his foot down on the accelerator, but just a teensy bit.

“When we went into the final turn, he was traveling so well that I asked him to pick it up a little bit,” Prat said.

What Flightline did the rest of the way was absolutely amazing.

Three things occurred simultaneously on the far turn. First, after Flightline was asked “to pick it up a little bit,” he responded eagerly while just floating along across the ground. Second, 49-1 longshot Extra Hope was retreating when paying the price for having dueled for the lead with Flightline to about the half-mile pole. And third, the others, despite being hard ridden, were not rallying while far behind Flightline.

As a result of that all taking place, Flightline managed to increase his advantage with every silky-smooth stride on the far turn to reach the quarter pole 10 lengths in front.

At that point, there were two main questions that remained to be answered: How far would Flightline win by? And would he break the track record?

When Flightline’s lead ballooned to 13 lengths with a furlong to go, they might as well have ended this year’s Pacific Classic right then by invoking a mercy rule, like they do when a Little League baseball game gets out of hand.

Not long after Prat took a peek back over his right shoulder in the vicinity of the eighth pole, he felt that the time had come to go ahead and ease off the accelerator. Prat allowed Flightline to just canter home without even the slightest bit of urging.l

“As soon as I looked back and saw how far in front he was, I wrapped up on him,” Prat said.

The crowd cheered wildly as Flightline approached the sixteenth pole in front by a block.

“Take a good look at this, because this something you’re not going to see too often, maybe never again!” said track announcer Trevor Denman.

Flightline officially crossed the finish line 19 1/4 lengths in front. His winning margin demolished the Pacific Classic record of 12 1/2 lengths set by the Sadler-trained Accelerate in the 2018 Pacific Classic. Accelerate would go on to win the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic that year and was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion older male.

The 66-year-old Sadler is turning the Pacific Classic into his own personal playground. He’s now won four of the last five. In addition to Accelerate and Flightline, Sadler’s Pacific Classic winners have been Higher Power in 2019 and Tripoli in 2021.

When you get right down to it, the 2022 Pacific Classic at Del Mar just wasn’t fair. Flightline really should have been asked to give the others a head start, or at least be ridden by a sumo wrestler instead of Prat.

And it wasn’t as if Flightline’s thrashed a bunch of bums. His five Pacific Classic victims were:

--Country Grammer, who finished second. An earner of in excess of $10 million, he was a Grade I winner in the U.S. last year and victorious in the Group I Dubai World Cup this year.

--Royal Ship, who came in third. A multiple Group I winner in his native Brazil, he is a multiple Grade II winner in this country.

--Express Train, who ended up fourth. He won this year’s Grade I Santa Anita Handicap.

--Extra Hope, who ran fifth. He won the Grade III Native Diver Handicap at Del Mar in 2020.

--Stilleto Boy, who finished sixth. He won the Grade II Californian at Santa Anita in April.


Sadler has done nothing less than a fantastic job with Flightline. To have Flightline ready to run a race like he did in only his second start of the year was an outstanding piece of training on Sadler’s part.

Juan Leyva also has made a major contribution to Flightline’s success. Leyva, who as a jockey won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint aboard Musical Romance, is Sadler’s trusty assistant and Flightline’s regular exercise rider.

Thanks to considerable time and effort on the part of Sadler and Leyva, Flightline has made the metamorphosis from a raw talent who always wanted to grab the bit and take off in the morning into a more relaxed and cooperative equine athlete. It wasn’t easy. But Sadler and Leyva have managed to get the bay Kentucky-bred colt to better control his natural urge to run fast, thus making him more effective when he races.

Leyva “is a great horseman and a brilliant rider,” Sadler said at the Pacific Classic post-race press conference. “He gets the credit for getting this horse to relax. Early on, Flightline really wanted to pull hard and really go. And now he’s settling really nicely.”


As mentioned earlier, Sadler said Flightline is an exceptional horse in that he can set good fractions and keep going. In the Pacific Classic, the fractions were :23.42 for the opening quarter-mile, :46.06 for the half, 1:09.97 for six furlongs, then 1:34.47 for one mile.

If Prat had simply flicked his wrists approaching the finish, or maybe even just sneezed, Flightline would have broken the 19-year-old track record of 1:59.11 set by another undefeated runner, Candy Ride, in 2003. Flightline’s final time was 1:59.28 or 1:59 1/5 in fifths.

When Secretariat won the 1973 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, he completed 1 1/4 miles in 1:59 2/5 to break Northern Dancer’s track record of 2:00 set in 1964.

Along with it being visually delicious, Flightline’s Pacific Classic effort was quantified as spectacular in that he received an enormous Beyer Speed Figure of 126. The 126 is tied for the second-biggest Beyer since the figures were made public in 1991 (initially in the Racing Times, then in the Daily Racing Form).

Ghostzapper registered the highest Beyer Speed Figure since 1991, a 128. That occurred when he splashed his way to a 10 3/4-length victory on a sloppy track in Monmouth Park’s Grade III Philip H. Iselin Handicap at 1 1/8 miles in 2004. Ghostzapper went on to capture the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles at Lone Star Park that year. His 124 Beyer in the Classic is tied with 1989 winner Sunday Silence for the highest figure in the history of that prestigious race.

According to Andy Beyer, creator of the Beyer Speed Figures, three other horses have run a 126. They all did it in 1997. Those three were Formal Gold, Gentlemen and Will’s Way.

“That is very honorable company for Flightline to be in,” Beyer said Monday morning to Steve Byk on the SiriusXM radio program At the Races.

Flightline kicked off his racing career with a 105 Beyer, followed by figures of 114, 118, 112 and now the gigantic 126.

Beyer can’t help wondering if “maybe a 130” is in Flightline’s range.

A Beyer Speed Figure of 130 or higher really does not seem far-fetched inasmuch as Flightline has won his first five races by a combined 62 3/4 lengths, while doing so effortlessly.

For Beyer, Flightline brings to mind one of the all-time greats, Seattle Slew, who swept the Triple Crown in 1977 while undefeated.

In a recent story for the Thoroughbred Racing Commentary website written by Steve Dennis, a turf writer in England, Sadler said that Flightline has been a ‘wow’ horse from day one.

“April Mayberry, who broke him at her farm in Ocala [Florida], said the first time she saw him breeze she knew he was special,” Sadler noted. “Flightline’s the kind of horse who comes along every 20, 30 years. The numbers he runs are unbelievable. I don’t think there are many people who’ve ever had a horse this good.”

Remember, Sadler said all that BEFORE the Pacific Classic.

Sadler told the English writer that Flightline might be the equivalent of Frankel. One imagines a number of people who read that, especially some folks in Europe, might have concluded that the trainer had gone insane.

Frankel won all 14 of his races from 2010-12 while racing exclusively in England, with 10 of his victories coming at the Group I level.

But anyone who saw what Flightline did in the Pacific Classic knows that his trainer certainly need not be fitted for one of those jackets with the sleeves in the back for mentioning Flightline in the same breath as Frankel.

Ray Paulick, publisher of the Paulick Report, wrote that Flightline’s Pacific Classic was “the kind of performance that famously moved Jack Nicklaus to tears while watching Secretariat’s Belmont tour de force alone at his home in Florida.”

This is a headline for an article written by Nicholas Godfrey for Thoroughbred Racing Commentary after the Pacific Classic: The new Secretariat? Flightline earns extraordinary Beyer figure of 126 for Pacific Classic romp

Godfrey called Flightline’s Pacific Classic “one of the most astonishing performances in the modern era of U.S. racing.”

This is a Thoroughbred Daily News headline for a post-Pacific Classic article written by Bill Finley: Was Flightline’s Pacific Classic the Best Performance Since Secretariat’s Belmont?

Finley made the observation that Flightline’s Pacific Classic unfolded in nearly identical fashion to Secretariat’s iconic 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes to complete a Triple Crown sweep.

“Secretariat’s rivals were still within striking distance midway down the backstretch as Sham stayed close,” Finley wrote. “Then he spurted his way from Sham and, from there, kept widening his margin over his competition.

“Flightline did much the same thing. With a half-mile to go in the race, Extra Hope was just a length behind Flightline while the main rivals were all within five to six lengths. Then Flightline hit another gear, took off and left some good horses looking like they belonged in the seventh at Finger Lakes.”

Dave Johnson called the 1973 Belmont Stakes over the track’s public address system.

Secretariat’s Belmont and Flightline’s Pacific Classic “were very similar,” Johnson told Finley. Flightline’s “Pacific Classic was breathtaking and that explosion of speed into the far turn was very similar to what Secretariat did. Almost 50 years later, I’ve never been so impressed by a horse or saw something that sent me back to the Secretariat days.”

Bill Mott, the Hall of Famer who trained two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, said that Flightline “looked spectacular” in a BloodHorse article written by Tim Wilkin. “To me, it was a Secretariat-type performance that we saw. There’s not much more to say about it.”

Bob Baffert is the trainer of distant Pacific Classic runner-up Country Grammer. The Hall of Fame trainer quipped afterward that Flightline was so far in front at the finish that Country Grammer thought he won the race.


Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Equine bred Flightline, who was purchased in New York for $1 million at a Fasig-Tipton yearling sale in Saratoga. Bloodstock agent David Ingordo signed the ticket on behalf of West Point Thoroughbreds, which is headed by Terry Finley.

Flightline races for a partnership consisting of West Point, Hronis Racing (Kosta, his wife Stephanie, plus Pete Hronis), Siena Farm, Woodford Racing and Summer Wind Equine. Hronis Racing is the majority owner.

By banking first prize of $600,000 in the Pacific Classic, Flightline boosted his career earnings above his purchase price to $1,394,800. But, of course, his value is worth many millions for breeding purposes following the conclusion of his racing career.

Flightline is a son of premier sire Tapit and the Indian Charlie mare Feathers. Lyon spent $2.3 million to buy Feathers at the 2016 Keeneland November sale.

Lyon had consigned Eagles Flight, a half-brother to Flightline, to the upcoming Keeneland September Yearling Sale, but withdrew the colt after the Pacific Classic. Eagles Flight is by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.

Lyon watched the Pacific Classic from the grandstand. As she did, she (and many others) could not help getting emotional as Flightline drew off to a giant lead on the far turn while, as sacrilegious as some might think it is to say, he was, quite frankly, moving like a tremendous you-know-what.

“I was just trying not to start crying so hard that I wouldn’t be able to see him when he came across the finish line,” Lyon said to BloodHorse’s Tracy Gantz.


Flightline was installed as a 1-5 morning-line favorite in the Pacific Classic. Mac McBride, Del Mar’s director of media, pointed out that this tied Cigar, who likewise was 1-5 on the morning line in the 1996 renewal.

In one of the biggest upsets in California racing history, Cigar was thwarted in his bid to extend his winning streak to 17. He finished second at odds of 1-10 to 39-1 Dare and Go.

When Flightline exited the starting gate, his final odds were 1-5 on the board, though his actual price was 3-10.

By returning $2.60 for each $2 win wager, Flightline broke another record. The previous lowest $2 win payoff had been Accelerate’s $2.80.

Flightline is scheduled to make his next start in the Grade I, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course on Nov. 5. There, he will challenge the record in that race for lowest $2 win payoff, which is held by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who paid $3.40 as a 7-10 favorite when he won the Classic by 5 1/2 lengths.

Flightline’s gaudy 19 1/4-length margin, admirable final time of 1:59.28 and gargantuan 126 Beyer Speed Figure are all elements of his Pacific Classic victory to be savored.

But perhaps even more than those pragmatic aspects, what many are certain to long remember about Flightline and the 2022 Pacific Classic is it was truly a goosebumps performance.


Just as the Pacific Classic got under way last Saturday, Flightline was the 9-5 favorite in Breeders’ Cup Future Wager #2.

After Flightline humiliated his opponents in the Pacific Classic, his future wager odds plummeted. He was 4-5 when betting ceased Monday.

The BC Classic Future Wager consists of 23 individual horses and an “all others” option. It’s a win wager only with a $2 mininum. There was no place, show or exotic betting offered.

The final BC Future Wager odds appear below:

 4-5 Flightline
 7-1 Epicenter
 8-1 Life Is Good
 8-1 Olympiad
33-1 Taiba
34-1 Country Grammer
36-1 “All Others”
40-1 Cyberknife
41-1 Hot Rod Charlie
42-1 Americanrevolution
50-1 Charge It
64-1 Rich Strike
67-1 Art Collector
68-1 Zandon
81-1 Happy Saver
83-1 Early Voting
99-1 Dynamic One
99-1 Emblem Road
99-1 Express Train
99-1 First Captain
99-1 Keepmeinmind
99-1 Mandaloun
99-1 Mishriff
99-1 Royal Ship

The will pays for all 24 betting interests appear below:

$2 Will Pay  Horse

   3.60  Flightline
 16.32  Epicenter
 19.54  Life Is Good
 18.72  Olympiad
 63.38  Taiba
 71.04  Country Grammer
 74.36  “All Others”
 83.86  Cyberknife
 85.34  Hot Rod Charlie
 86.04  Americanrevolution
103.36  Charge It
131.68  Rich Strike
136.20  Art Collector
138.44  Zandon
164.60  Happy Saver
169.52  Early Voting
217.10  Mandaloun
228.22  First Captain
239.76  Dynamic One
255.90  Emblem Road
260.20  Royal Ship
267.36  Mishriff
288.12  Keepmeinmind
319.36  Express Train


To the surprise of no one, after Flightline’s sensational Pacific Classic victory, he takes over the top spot this week in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. He received all 35 first-place votes. Life Is Good had been No. 1 for the past four weeks after he won the Grade I Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 6.

The Top 10 for this week is below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 350 Flightline (35)
 2. 307 Life Is Good
 3. 257 Epicenter
 4. 196 Olympiad
 5. 192 Nest
 6. 151 Jackie’s Warrior
 7. 101 Country Grammer
 8.   81 Malathaat
 9.   64 Jack Christopher
10.   28 Clairiere
10.   28 Cyberknife
10.   28 Regal Glory


Flightine now has ranked No. 1 in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings for 11 consecutive weeks since the first rankings were announced in late June.

The Top 10 for this week is below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 299 Flightline (29)
 2. 253 Life Is Good (1)
 3. 237 Epicenter
 4. 187 Olympiad
 5. 173 Country Grammer
 6.   93 Hot Rod Charlie
 6.   86 Cyberknife
 8.   84 Happy Saver
 9.   57 Americanrevolution
10.   34 Taiba

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