Contenders to fill Flightline's void in older horse division

November 30th, 2022

Flightline won three important races for older horses by open lengths in 2022, concluding a presumptive Horse of the Year campaign with an 8 1/4-length romp in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1)

He never encountered a rival capable of challenging him, capturing his six career starts by a cumulative margin of 71 lengths.

Flightline will now take up stud duties, and the older horse dirt division lacks a standout entering 2023.

Let’s examine six contenders, listed in alphabetical order.

Charge It is a raw talent who fans hope realizes his potential. An 8 1/2-length maiden winner at second asking, the gray colt’s immaturity was on full display in his stakes debut next out, the Florida Derby (G1), as Charge It raced in spots and drifted repeatedly in the stretch, finishing second.

The Kentucky Derby (G1) was too much too soon as Charge It exited a 17th-place finish with an entrapped epiglottis. However, the regally-bred Tapit colt put it all together when coming back in the Dwyer (G3) in early July, recording a 23-length win. Unfortunately, the Todd Pletcher-trained sophomore sustained a foot injury readying for the Travers (G1), so we’ll have to wait for 2023 to see him again. Charge It will be an exciting presence in the older horse division if he stays healthy.

Cody’s Wish stretched his win streak to four, recording a head victory over Cyberknife in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). The four-year-old colt has captured seven of eight starts since breaking his maiden, the lone setback being a head second in his stakes debut last March.

The Dirt Mile represented his first two-turn win, and Cody’s Wish will be aimed toward longer distances next season. By Curlin and out of a Tapit mare, the late-blooming colt has been judiciously handled by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, and his Brisnet Speed ratings (106-104-105-105 last four starts) are getting good. Cody’s Wish rates as very intriguing.

Cyberknife won a pair of Grade 1s, the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Haskell (G1), and finished his three-year-old season with three consecutive Grade 1 placings, sandwiching a third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) between runner-up efforts in the Travers and Dirt Mile. From the second crop of the sensational Gun Runner, the hard-hitting colt proved extremely honest, the lone blight being an 18th in the Kentucky Derby.

Like his sire, Cyberknife is a candidate to step forward significantly at age four, and the Brad Cox trainee has the versatility to make his own trip, setting the pace in the Travers and rallying to win the Haskell.

Rich Strike became the second-longest shot to ever win the Kentucky Derby, springing a massive surprise at 80-1. The late runner wasn’t a serious factor in his final prep, recording a non-threatening third in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), and Rich Strike’s lone previous win had come in a maiden claiming race in which he was haltered by connections for a $30,000 tag.

He gave some credence to the upset when finishing fourth in the Travers two starts later, and the Eric Reed-trained colt followed with a head second in the Lukas Classic (G2) at Churchill Downs in early October. After a rallying fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Rich Strike appeared to come back too quickly for the Clark (G1), failing to switch leads and exiting a last-place effort with a lung infection. He still has something to prove from a class perspective, and Rich Strike will try to show more as a four-year-old.

Taiba rates as a leading divisional contender in 2023. A smashing winner of the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in his second start, the Gun Runner colt lacked the seasoning for a serious Kentucky Derby bid, checking in 12th under the Twin Spires, but Taiba rebounded two starts later when romping in the Pennsylvania Derby.

A good third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Taiba’s Grade 1 wins came back fast (111 and 113 Speed figures), and the talented chestnut raced only six times. He looks poised to keep improving at four.

Zandon recorded a powerful win in April’s Blue Grass (G1), establishing himself as a top Kentucky Derby contender, but that was his lone trip to the winner’s circle, finishing the season with placings in the Kentucky Derby, Jim Dandy (G2), Travers, and Pennsylvania Derby. He’s the type who always seemed to be on the cusp, never turning in a disappointing performance against top-level competition, but Zandon must keep moving forward to be a major player in the older horse dirt division.

Trained by Chad Brown, Zandon will get the opportunity to conclude his three-year-old season on a positive note in Saturday's Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct.