Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Woodford Racing’s undefeated multiple Grade 1 winner Flightline was a decisive victor of the hotly anticipated bout with Grade 1 winner Speaker’s Corner in Saturday’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park.
Trained by John Sadler and piloted by Flavien Prat, Flightline broke inward and a step slow from the inside post, conceding position to the quick-starting Speaker’s Corner, who exited post 2 under Junior Alvarado.
Flightline was taken in hand by Prat as Speaker’s Corner crossed over to the rail and assumed command through an opening quarter-mile in :22.78 and the half-mile in :45.01 over the fast main track. But a patient Prat quickly regrouped and advanced up the rail, steadying again slightly before angling three-wide through the turn and into the clear. Once set down for the drive, Flightline blew past Speaker’s Corner and strode home a six-length winner in 1:33.59, while geared down the final 70 yards.
In victory, Flightline toppled the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Happy Saver, the aforementioned Speaker’s Corner, and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner Aloha West.
Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds was on hand at Belmont with a large supporting group to cheer home their undefeated star, who garnered a 112 Beyer Speed Figure.
He said Flightline’s victory was all the more impressive in that he had to overcome adversity after three gate-to-wire, open-lengths sprint scores, culminating in a facile win in the Malibu (G1) in December at Santa Anita.
“That was the first time we’d turned for home with something to do. Every other horse in his first three races, they’d been going backwards,” Finley said. “I saw Happy Saver wasn’t going backwards and I thought he’d get after it and he did. That wasn’t quite as easy as the first three.
“These were very good horses–three Grade 1 winners,” he continued. “You don’t run away and hide from that type of Grade 1 winners.”
Finley credited Sadler and his assistant trainer Juan Leyva for the development and maturity of Flightline.
“If you look at his breezes before the Malibu and then his last four or five breezes, he’s a different horse in terms of the first part of his works,” Finley said. “The assistant trainer Juan Leyva, who was a jockey and won a Breeders’ Cup race, all credit to him for working with this horse every day. A big part of their day has been this horse for a long time, and I think it paid off. I saw their hard work all come together and be exhibited yesterday.”
Finley said another contributing factor was re-acquainting Prat with the new-and-improved Flightline in advance of his first start beyond seven furlongs.
“We flew Flavien out on a Sunday night three weeks ago to breeze this horse [at Santa Anita] because he really hadn’t been on him since the Malibu,” Finley said. “I think that really helped because he had seen how much more relaxed he’d been since then.”
Finley admitted that there were a few anxious moments early in the race when Flightline did not break cleanly from his inside post.
“That’s what you’re exposed to on the rail,” Finley said. “That was not the best case and I knew that Junior Alvarado had his eye on us and he did a good job. He dropped over very quickly and I think he tried to set a trap for Flavien. And he did, but the trap dissipated.”
Finley said once the field separated enough for Flightline to get into the clear, he began to relax and enjoy the race.
“I’d have been more worried if Happy Saver lapped up on us and then we would have been caught in that pocket,” Finley said. “But when it thinned out and he was able to move out two paths, I knew that if we’re good enough we were going to get by this horse. And then he went up in a way that you kind of knew he was going to keep going.”
And when Flightline was presented late in the turn and track announcer John Imbriale alluded to a battle of East versus West, the crowd cheered in anticipation ever so briefly.
“For about six strides,” said Finley, with a laugh. “We enjoyed that last eighth of a mile and he was free and clear. I saw Flavien just before the eighth pole peek over at the big board and when they do that, that’s a good sign.”
While post-race discussions centered around a next start in the Pacific Classic (G1) on September 3 at Del Mar, the New York-based Finley said he’d like to see Flightline under consideration for the $1 million Whitney (G1) August 6 at Saratoga. The nine-furlong test for older horses offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Classic (G1) in November at Keeneland.
“I know exactly where I want to go, but John will make the call and he’s done really well so far,” Finely said. “I think that’s [the Pacific Classic] probably the leading candidate, but the Whitney certainly has to be in play, too. One or the other.”
Finley said Flightline cooled out well and scoped clean after the race and was in good order during his Sunday morning visit with the talented and proud colt.
“He has personality. He’s the prom king and he’s turned into the Heisman Trophy winner,” said Finley. “He’s a handsome kid and got a lot of charisma. There’s a lot to like about this horse.”
And Finley said Flightline’s continued success – for an ownership group that includes both the West Point and Woodford Racing partnerships–can only benefit the sport.
“He’s owned by people who have worked hard and developed a love for our sport and have come together,” Finley said of the Summer Wind Equine-bred son of Tapit out of the Indian Charlie mare Feathered. “I think that’s a great signal to send to people who are looking at our industry.”