Jon White: Flightline's Latest Morning Rehearsal

Flightline was a “dark horse” last Saturday morning (Oct. 15) at Santa Anita Park.

No, he most certainly was not a “dark horse” in the conventional definition of the phrase, which is an “unusually little-known contender (such as a racehorse) that makes an unexpectedly good showing,” according to

In his workout last Saturday, Flightline literally was a dark horse. That’s because when he was the first horse to work after the 6:30 renovation break for trainer John Sadler, it was so dark that for a good portion of his drill, the only thing visible to me and others on hand was the light on Juan Leyva’s helmet. Assistant trainer Leyva is Flightline’s regular exercise rider.

Fortunately, at least there was just enough light for one to actually see Flightline as he smoothly and effortlessly cruised down the lane and into the clubhouse turn without any encouragement from Leyva. Then they pretty much again disappeared into the darkness.

You can view the workout on XBTV.

I decided to try and time the workout myself. Why do I say “try and time the workout?” I say that because I am definitely rusty in terms of clocking a horse. I haven’t done it in a long time. I also was dubious as to how well I’d do timing Flightline last Saturday because, due to the darkness, I essentially was clocking the light on a helmet.

While Flightline was making his way around the far turn, rival trainer Bob Baffert looked on intently.

“That light sure is moving fast,” Baffert quipped.

Hall of Famer Baffert trains 3-year-old Taiba, winner of this year’s Grade I Santa Anita Derby and Grade I Pennsylvania Derby. Taiba, like Flightline, is headed to the Grade I, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Nov. 5.

For many years, I clocked lots of workouts at the Great Race Place on my own when I was working for the Daily Racing Form and then in TV for Santa Anita and HRTV.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I timed many a workout standing alongside such Hall of Fame trainers as Charlie Whittingham, Richard Mandella, Ron McAnally and Gary Jones, plus accomplished trainers like Joe Manzi and Mel Stute.

Whittingham especially liked it when I would be with him for turf workouts, which can be a challenge to time accurately due to the “dogs” (cones) on the course.

I have fond memories of clocking Flawlessly while standing with Whittingham and his assistant at the time, Rodney Rash. Flawlessly, a daughter of Triple Crown winner Affirmed, was voted 1992 and 1993 Eclipse Awards as champion female turf horse. Flawlessly was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

Whenever I clocked horses with Whittingham, every single time, he insisted that I reveal my clocking first.

“Whadchya get, White?” Whittingham would always ask before telling me his clocking.

I sure do miss those mornings with Charlie, who passed away in 1999.

Fabulous Flightline worked from the five-eighths pole to the seven-eighths pole. My time for him was six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 (1:12.52 in hundredths).

His official clocking, according to Equibase, was 1:11 4/5 (1:11.80).

I was not alone in having a time of 1:12 2/5. Private clocker extraordinaire Gary Young likewise had 1:12 2/5. When spoke to Sadler later in the morning, he told me that he had timed Flightline in 1:12 2/5. Sadler was sitting in a golf cart with Kosta Hronis in front of the grandstand.

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

Sadler could not have been more pleased with Flightline’s workout.

“What splits did you get?” I asked.

Sadler said that he had timed Flightline in :24 flat, :48 1/5, 1:00 flat and 1:12 2/5, galloping out seven furlongs in 1:24 3/5, then on out a mile in 1:38 3/5.

To put Flightline’s six-furlong workout into some perspective, he galloped out -- repeat, galloped out -- a mile in 1:38 3/5. The following afternoon on the same one-mile oval, Funkenstein won a mile allowance/optional claiming race for California-breds in 1:38 3/5.

According to Sadler, Flightline will have his next-to-last pre-BC Classic workout at Santa Anita this coming Saturday (Oct. 22). Sadler told me that this next workout for the 4-year-old Tapit superstar probably will be later in the morning, around 7:45, so that it isn’t in the dark again.

Undefeated in five career starts by a combined 62 3/4 lengths, Flightline is scheduled to be shipped to Kentucky next Sunday (Oct. 23), then have one workout at Keeneland prior to the BC Classic.

The BC Classic will be only Flightline’s third race this year. He overcame a tardy start and early adversity to win the Grade I Met Mile by six lengths on June 11 in his 2022 debut. That was followed by a goosebumps-producing 19 1/4-length victory in Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic on Sept. 3.

Flightline recorded a 126 Beyer Speed Figure for his Pacific Classic performance. Prior to Flightline, the highest Beyer by a Pacific Classic winner had been Candy Ride’s 123 in 2003. The Pacific Classic was first run in 1991.

The 126 Beyer for Flightline in the Pacific Classic is tied for the second-biggest figure in any race since the Beyers were first made public in 1991 (initially in the Racing Times, then in the Daily Racing Form).

The top Beyer Speed Figure since 1991 belongs to Ghostzapper. He posted a 128 when he won Monmouth Park’s Philip H. Iselin Handicap at 1 1/8 miles by 10 3/4 lengths on a sloppy track in 2004. Ghostzapper then captured the BC Classic later in 2004 at Lone Star Park. His 124 Beyer in the BC Classic is tied with 1989 winner Sunday Silence for the biggest figure in the history of that race, which was first run in 1984.

According to Andy Beyer, creator of the Beyer Speed Figures, three other horses have run a 126 since 1991. All three did it in 1997. They were Formal Gold, Gentlemen and Will’s Way.

In the Pacific Classic, Flightline also received the best Thoro-Graph number in the 35 years that they have been computing those speed figures.

In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, the higher the number the better. The opposite is true for Thoro-Graph numbers.

According to Bill Finley of the Thoroughbred Daily News, Flightline’s Thoro-Graph number for the Pacific Classic was a negative 8 1/2.

The previous lowest Thoro-Graph number was Frosted’s negative 8 when he won the Met Mile at Belmont Park by 14 1/4 lengths in 1:32.73.

Flightline’s 19 1/4-length Pacific Classic triumph even caught the attention of Queen Elizabeth II. She called Lane’s End Farm’s Bill Farish the day after that race to discuss Flightline, according to a BloodHorse article written by Eric Mitchell.

Farish said that The Queen “was very interested in Flightline, his history and his pedigree. It is amazing that she was still so involved. It shows how much she loved the game.”

Just four days after The Queen’s chat with Farish about Flightline, Her Majesty died at the age of 96.


I have been in the same horse racing fantasy league for 32 years. It’s called the Fantasy Stable League (FSL). I have been the commissioner going back to 2000.

We draft horses each year on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The league runs from Thanksgiving through the Breeders’ Cup. There are eight members in the league. We each draft eight horses. We get two claims per month, plus one “super claim” through Belmont Stakes Day and another one after that. When someone makes a claim, they must drop a horse from their stable.

In terms of FSL scoring, only races in the United States, in Canada, on the Dubai World Cup card and the Saudi Cup count. The Saudi Cup is considered a Grade I race for our point-earning purposes.

This is how our scoring system works:

--A Grade I race is worth 12, 6 and 4 points for first, second and third.

--A Grade II race is worth 8, 4 and 2 for first, second and third.

--A Grade III race is worth 6, 3 and 1 for first, second and third.

--An ungraded stakes race is worth 4 for first.

--All other races are worth 2 for first.

--All Canadian races are downgraded one level, except the Woodbine Mile, Northern Dancer Turf, Canadian International and E.P. Taylor.

--The most valuable bonus races are the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic (36, 18, 12). The other bonus races (24, 12, 8) are the Apple Blossom, Kentucky Oaks, Met Mile, Sword Dancer Stakes, Diana Stakes and all of the other Breeders’ Cup races. Since the beginning of this league, the Arlington Million and Beverly D. were bonus races. But they were not run this year. With Arlington Park’s situation rather shaky these days, I made the decision to make the Sword Dancer and Diana bonus races in 2021 rather than the Arlington Million and Beverly D.

When we drafted just before last Thanksgiving, I had the last pick. I was elated to have the last pick. That meant I won the 2021 FSL title. Our draft order is determined by reversing the order of the previous year’s final standings.

That was my fourth FSL title. It seems that I win it about every 10 years. My previous FSL titles were in 1992, 2003 and 2013.

It’s been a debacle for me this year. As early as June, I knew there was virtually no chance for me to cash by finishing first, second or third. Before the Pacific Classic, I already was not being overly aggressive due to possibly putting myself in a position to finish last and thereby get the first pick in the 2023 draft.

And after Flightline won the Pacific Classic by 19 1/4 lengths, I decided it was time go into all-out tank mode to try and finish last, which would mean I’d get Flightline for 2023 if he does continue racing.

Once I had no possible way of finishing third or better to get any money back, my feeling was why in the heck finish next-to-last or third-from-last, which means nothing, when finishing last could mean something by possibly drafting Flightline.

In my 32 years in this league, I’ve never finished last. But I have put myself in a position to finish last this year by getting rid of horses much like a jet dumps fuel when there is a serious problem.

For my two September claims, I dropped Taiba and Wonder Wheel. I replaced them with two retired horses, Independence Hall and Nashville. Why claim retired horses? Because if I’m going to tank, there is no sense in claiming a horse who has any chance of earning even a single point.

Taiba would go on to get 12 points by winning the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby. Wonder Wheel also would go on to get 12 points by winning the Grade I Alcibiades. I just threw away those 24 points.

For my two October claims (my final claims of the year), I dropped Forte and Justique. I replaced them with two more retired horses, Mo Donegal and As Time Goes By.

Forte would go on to get 12 points by winning the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity. Justique would go on to get two points by finishing third in the Grade II Chandelier Stakes.

The Grade I wins by Taiba, Wonder Wheel and Forte were far too little too late for me to have any chance to get any money back this year. I needed the horses in my fantasy stable to run more like that earlier for me to have had a shot of at least finishing third to get some money. But they didn’t. Hence, I started tanking, much like a number of NBA teams are expected to do for the 2023 draft.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski says he expects some NBA teams to tank in order to enhance their odds at landing Victor Wernbanyama in the 2023 draft. Wernbanyama is considered one of the greatest NBA draft prospects of all time, right up there with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordon, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James.

Even if I finish last only to then find out that Flightline has been retired after the BC Classic, that’s okay. There’s really no downside. Because even if Flightline is not on the board for the draft, there still will be plenty of other good horses to take with the No. 1 overall pick, horses like Cave Rock or Nest, just to name two possibilities.


Thanks to all the people who stopped by the Santa Anita gift shop last Saturday and Sunday to have author Mary Perdue and yours truly sign copies of Perdue’s wonderful book “Landaluce: The Story of Seattle Slew’s First Champion.”

Interestingly, some of those who had us sign the book are big Landaluce fans, while others had never heard of her.

One woman said that she uncharacteristically went absolutely berserk when 2-year-old Landaluce was drawing away while coming down the stretch in her seven-length debut win at Hollywood Park on July 3, 1982.

“I went crazy,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t like it whenever people do that. Yet, there I was, acting like a maniac. My husband couldn’t believe it. He kept asking me, ‘Are you okay? Are you okay?’

“After that, I just had to be there for all of Landaluce’s races. And I was there for all five of her races. She was a superstar.”

Landaluce won her five career starts by a combined 46 1/2 lengths, including a sensational 21-length victory in the Hollywood Lassie Stakes at Hollywood Park. Flightline’s 19 1/4-length Pacific Classic win came in a 1 1/4-mile race. The Lassie Stakes was a much shorter six-furlong race.

The racing world was shocked when Landaluce, a vibrant 2-year-old who at the time was the toast of racing, died from a severe bacterial infection at trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ Santa Anita barn on the morning of Nov. 18, 1982.

Landaluce “evoked legitimate comparisons to Ruffian,” Steven Crist wrote in the Daily Racing Form book “Champions.” That’s certainly high praise. I’m one of the many who consider Ruffian to be the greatest female Thoroughbred to ever race in this country.

I had the honor of writing the foreword for Perdue’s book.

Tim Layden, for many years with Sports Illustrated and now writer-at-large at NBC Sports, says Perdue’s book “is essential reading for all fans of the sport.”

One of those who stopped by to have his book signed last Saturday, a gentleman by the name of Tim Hammer, looked at me and said, “You got me hooked on racing!”

That certainly got my attention.

“I got hooked on racing because I saw your pick six ticket on HRTV and hit it for over $45,000,” Hammer said. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Hammer was referring to Santa Anita’s pick six back on Dec. 28, 2003. There was a substantial pick six carryover on that occasion. A $120 pick-six ticket that I constructed was displayed a number of times that day on HRTV.

It had always been my policy that whenever I had a ticket displayed on TV, I bet it myself. I felt that if I was going to recommend that somebody spend their money to play my ticket, the least I could do was to bet it myself. I’m guessing that I might well be the only person on TV to ever have done this for every ticket.

I actually came very close to making an exception and not betting that $120 pick six ticket of mine that was displayed on HRTV. It was just three days after Christmas. After spending a lot of money on Christmas presents, coming up with $120 to bet that pick six ticket was not all that easy. But after thinking it over, I decided that I should not deviate from my policy and that I should go ahead and bet the $120 ticket.

Thank goodness I did. I hit the pick six that day for $45,981.20. I had one of 13 winning tickets.

I have no doubt that Hammer had one of the 13 winning pick-six tickets because, all these years later, he rattled off names of horses who won in the pick-six sequence, most notably She’s a Olympian.

She’s a Olympian pulled off an upset in the ninth and final race on the card at 30-1. The other winners in the pick six were Yogi’s, Castor Troy, Chadwicks Well, Pesci (named after actor Joe Pesci) and Redattore (in the San Gabriel Handicap).

Hammer’s wife, Betty, told me that she also got hooked on racing because of her husband’s lucrative pick six score.

Another of the 13 pick-six winners was Charlie Sigrast, a horse owner and bettor in Chicago, who watched HRTV because of its extensive coverage of Hawthorne. After he hit that $45,981.20 pick six, Sigrast contacted Santa Anita and spoke to publicity director Vince Bruun.

Sigrast said that he rarely played the pick six and that he had never before hit a pick six. He went on to say that he had not planned to play the Santa Anita pick six that day, but he was watching HRTV and saw my pick six ticket being displayed.

“I was watching when Jon White gave out his pick six and I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’m going to play that ticket today,’ ” Sigrast said to Bruun. “It turned out to be my biggest hit ever.”

The reason Sigrast had contacted Santa Anita’s publicity department was to get my address. Sigrast was kind enough to send me a case of red wine.


The Top 10 for this week is below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 340 Flightline (34)
 2. 293 Life Is Good
 3. 236 Epicenter
 4. 216 Nest
 5. 160 Olympiad
 6. 133 Malathaat
 7. 103 Jackie’s Warrior
 8.   96 Taiba
 9.   64 Hot Rod Charlie
10.   52 War Like Goddess

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