New Horse Racing Star Flightline Draws Secretariat Comparisons

Written By Dave Bontempo on September 6, 2022
flightline

Some horses have to be bet. And some must also be seen. That’s the sentiment surrounding Flightline, who has emerged as a rare, heavy 4-5 favorite at the close of the second futures pool of Breeders’ Cup Classic odds with the race still two months away.

His demolition of a talented $1 million TVG Pacific Classic field by nearly 20 lengths Saturday at Del Mar was a crossover moment for the nation’s horse-racing fans – and general public – to embrace a generational star.

Inklings of the beloved Secretariat and Seabiscuit, among others, accent  the mystique of this unbeaten 4-year-old colt.

Flightline’s exceptional stature can be measured from several angles.

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Final Breeders’ Cup Classic Futures Pool Odds

HorseClosing OddsMorning Line Odds
#1 Americanrevolution42-130-1
#2 Art Collector67-130-1
#3 Charge It50-120-1
#4 Country Grammer34-112-1
#5 Cyberknife40-130-1
#6 Dynamic One99-150-1
#7 Early Voting83-150-1
#8 Emblem Road99-150-1
#9 Epicenter7-17-2
#10 Express Train99-150-1
#11 First Captain99-150-1
#12 Flightline4-55-2
#13 Happy Saver81-130-1
#14 Hot Rod Charlie41-120-1
#15 Keepmeinmind99-150-1
#16 Life Is Good8-14-1
#17 Mandaloun99-150-1
#18 Mishriff99-130-1
#19 Olympiad8-130-1
#20 Rich Strike64-130-1
#21 Royal Ship99-150-1
#22 Taiba33-130-1
#23 Zandon68-130-1
#24 All others36-150-1

Flightline By The Numbers

He’s 5-for-5 in career starts, with a combined margin of victory of approximately 63 lengths.

At the TVG Pacific Classic, he made 1-5 betting odds look like stealing. Flavien Prat could have guided him home by 25 lengths – which would have doubled the race record for margin of victory – but he settled for 19. With Prat just letting him gallop in the stretch, Flightline still eclipsed the previous mark of 12 1/2 lengths, set by Accelerate in 2018.

Accelerate later won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. And that’s whose record Flightline shattered for fun. Both horses are trained by John Sadler.

Bob Baffert, who trains 2022 Pacific Classic runner-up Country Grammer, joked that the gap was so wide between the horses that Country Grammer probably thought he won. 

Flightline did not beat a slouch, either. Country Grammer won the $12 million Dubai World Cup in March.

Beyer Beware

Yes, that was a whopping 126 Beyer speed figure for Flightline, the highest recorded number in a couple of decades. The Beyer Speed index was designed by Washington Post columnist Andrew Beyer in the 1970s. It is a numerical expression of a horse’s final time, universalized for distance, track surface, and the daily variant on the track.

It’s an excellent tool to reveal not only the performance of one event,  but a horse’s improvement trajectory over a couple of races.

How dominant is 126?

Anything over 100 is considered exceptional. Rich Strike won the Kentucky Derby this year with a 101. 

Anything over 110 is considered elite. Epicenter, a possible Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old, has posted a 112. And that was the gold standard this year until Flightline showed up at Del Mar.

Flightline’s 126 and improvement arc suggests he can surpass 130 if he is forced to go all out in the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 5 at Keeneland.

That would help him surpass recent industry bests of 128 by Ghostzapper in 2004 and 126 by Formal Gold in 1997.

Does Flightline have the highest recorded Beyer figure ever?

No, that actually belongs to Groovy, who unfurled totals of 133 and 132 during an exceptional six-race win streak in 1987. 

But he was a sprinter. And although he set a Belmont Park track record for six furlongs in 1:07 and 4/5 seconds for his 132 in the True North, he flopped in longer races (16th in the Kentucky Derby, sixth in the Preakness).

It takes a big Beyer figure over a long distance to prompt a clamor in that category. A six-furlong Beyer mark might be appreciated in the same vein as an MLB stolen-base record. A big Beyer at 1 1/4 miles would be revered like the home-run record.

Groovy would be chasing Ricky Henderson. Flightline would stalk Barry Bonds.

Beyer invented his index after Secretariat’s classic 1973 romp in the Belmont Stakes. He speculated that Secretariat’s Beyer would have been 139 had the index existed then.

There’s no way to totally compare the horses, but Secretariat and Flightline share something seen in the next category.

The Visual Splendor

There is a similarity between Secretariat’s signature race and Flightline’s TVG Pacific masterpiece. They both widened the leads, authoritatively, during the second half of the race. Each made a gradual, sustaining and definitive putaway move.

Secretariat was even with Sham halfway through their 1 1/2-mile Belmont and he won by 31 lengths.

Flightline won the 1 1/4-mile TVG Pacific by 19 1/4 lengths in a race he did not lead after half a mile. He compiled about 15 lengths of his lead between the half-mile and one-mile mark. Had this race been 1 1/2 miles, he may have equaled Secretariat’s victory margin.

These characteristics were captured by the track announcers, who described rare feats of dominance in their calls.

“Secretariat is widening now. He’s moving like a tremendous machine,” exclaimed Belmont race caller Chic Anderson. “Secretariat by 12, Secretariat by 14 lengths on the turn … Secretariat is out there all alone. He’s almost a sixteenth of a mile from the rest of the horses.”

Secretariat went on to establish a track record of 2:24 that stands today.

Trevor Denman saw a similar projection with Flightline. He noted that the lead was “embarrassing”.  

“It must be 15 lengths heading for home,” Denman noted. After reporting that Prat was not pushing Flightline, he said, “Take a good luck at this. You will not see this too often. Maybe ever again. Flightline is clear by 20 lengths.”

Denman’s description conveyed the message that Prat could have won by as much as he wanted.

The Flightline Journey

He represents  new era of thinking. In the lucrative age of breeding over racing, Flightline has only run five times since April of 2021.

What’s also rare is that he improves, despite layoffs.

He began with a six-furlong romp in 1:08.75 at Maiden Special Weights at Santa Anita. Next came  a triumph at six furlongs in 1:08.05 at Allowance Optional Claiming at Del Mar. He graduated to seven furlongs and a romp in the Grade I Malibu at Santa Anita  last December. Third race, a $300,000 purse and he won handily.

Flightline’s first crossover to stardom came in June on the undercard of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park.

Despite a six-month layoff and a sluggish start, he stretched out to a dominating six-length triumph at the Metropolitan Mile on the industry’s biggest stage. He ran six furlongs in 1:08.54 and THEN put the field away in his one-mile debut at 2-5 odds.

The Pacific Classic was more of the same. It was his first 1 1/4-mile race. First time around two turns. But the more that was asked, the more that he gave at 1-5 odds.

There’s only one more step to await in this magical 2022 campaign. He will be favored in the Breeders Cup. It’s just a matter of what the final betting odds are.

He closed 4-5 in the second and final Breeders’ Cup Classic futures pool. He will probably become even shorter at post time.

Will he actually go off at less than that in the Classic? Time will tell, but at least two clear-cut perspectives surround this rare talent.

  1.  If the bettors can’t make money with him, they can at least savor his performance.
  2. We can’t wait to see Flightline take flight again.

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Written by
Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, who writes extensively on the emergence of legalized sports betting, is a recipient of the Sam Taub Award for Broadcast Excellence by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has broadcast boxing for all the major networks over the last four decades and is a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame as well as the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame. His work also can be seen at the Press of Atlantic City and iGamingPlayer.

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