Flightline's itinerary a hot topic after 117 Brisnet Speed rating

September 7th, 2021

“Beautiful looker, great action, has the talent. Is this the next superstar?”

Track announcer Trevor Denman aptly summed up Flightline’s tour de force in Sunday’s 8TH race at Del Mar. The exciting sophomore extended his record to 2-for-2, by a combined margin of 26 lengths, without appearing to take a deep breath.

Nor was it just a case of a stunning visual impression. The John Sadler trainee crossed the wire in a blistering 1:08.05, just a couple of ticks off the six-furlong track record of 1:07.60, and earned a gaudy 117 Brisnet Speed rating.

To put that 117 Speed figure in context, champion Essential Quality has posted 111 and 108 Speed ratings in his victories in the Belmont (G1) and Travers (G1), respectively. Obviously they’re two different types of horses who’ve competed in entirely different types of races. Essential Quality is the stout Triple Crown campaigner proven at the top level over two seasons, and Flightline’s experience is confined to a pair of sprints versus overmatched rivals.

Still, the numbers indicate the raw talent on display in Flightline, a $1 million yearling who is himself by the same sire as Essential Quality – Tapit.

Flightline’s deep pedigree

Indeed, Flightline does not have a sprinter’s pedigree. His dam, Feathered, scored her signature win in the 2015 Edgewood (G3) going 1 1/16 miles on turf, and she was beaten only three-quarters of a length when second in the 1 1/4-mile American Oaks (G1).

Although by a speed influence in Indian Charlie, Feathered is out of stakes-placed turf router Receipt, a mare by the stamina-laden Dynaformer. Receipt’s dam, the Storm Cat mare Finder’s Fee, was a one-turn specialist whose marquee wins came in the 1999 Matron (G1) and 2000 Acorn (G1).

The top half of Flightline's pedigree from Brisnet

The bottom half of Flightline's pedigree from Brisnet

There’s no typecasting this female line cultivated by the Phipps family. Finder’s Fee was produced by Fantastic Find, winner of the 1 1/8-mile Hempstead H. (G1) and runner-up in two major seven-furlong events, the 1989 Test (G1) and 1990 Ballerina H (G1).

An even better example of distance versatility is Fantastic Find’s half-brother, millionaire Dancing Spree, who won both the 1 1/4-mile Suburban H. (G1) and the six-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) during his 1989 campaign.

Flightline’s career so far

Flightline could have been on the classic trail himself, if not for setbacks that put him behind such a timetable early on. That just reinforced Sadler’s inclination to take a slow and deliberate approach to developing the youngster. Thus you could argue that it’s more a matter of circumstance, not inherent distance limitations, that Flightline has raced only at six furlongs so far.

Ready to premiere at Santa Anita on Apr. 24, the blueblood made his 9-10 odds look generous in a thoroughly dominant performance. Flightline was simply too fast for them as he took the lead through an opening quarter in :21.59, then left his pursuers standing as he spurted away through a half in :44.42. Despite his rate of speed, he appeared to be coasting for Flavien Prat.

Flightline romped home by 13 1/4 lengths in 1:08.75, good for a 105 Speed rating, and evoked the following comment from track announcer Frank Mirahmadi:

What a dazzling display at first asking. He will graduate with honors. A potential star here – Flightline wins by double digits, wrapped up.

Flightline’s second act, unfortunately, had to wait. Aside from Sadler’s desire not to throw him into the deep end prematurely, the colt reportedly had a foot abscess that delayed his training.

Finally a consistent presence on the Del Mar worktab throughout the month of August, Flightline resumed in Sunday’s allowance/optional claimer back at six furlongs. The 1-5 favorite showed that he could use an opponent as a target too, ominously tracking through an opening quarter in :22.01.

But Flightline put the race away with his devastating cruising speed at the half in :44.17. The stretch run was a formality as he padded his margin to 12 3/4 lengths, again exuding the quality of a horse who was not yet having to tap into his reserves.

Where will Flightline go next?

While immediate plans have yet to be announced, Sadler continues to mention the same major target – the Dec. 26 Malibu (G1) going seven furlongs at Santa Anita.

But Flightline will likely have to graduate to better company before then, so the pressing question is, where? Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman has highlighted the Oct. 2 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2). That’s a logical spot since Flightline would be able to stick to the same trip on the class hike, rather than trying multiple new things at once.

As intriguing as the Sept. 25 Pennsylvania Derby (G1) would be from a fans’ perspective, such a stakes debut would also involve jumping up to 1 1/8 miles, as well as shipping for the first time. Flightline is gifted enough to tackle such division stalwarts as Hot Rod Charlie and Medina Spirit, but after building up to the task in a more measured manner. Stablemate Rock Your World has reportedly been assigned Penn duty anyway.

Flightline (Photo by Benoit Photography)

If Flightline does continue his ascent in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, Sadler might want to go straight to the Malibu without another race in between. After all, he runs so well fresh, that he could use Santa Anita’s prep as his springboard to the Malibu.

At the same time, if Flightline is in prime form with the Breeders’ Cup in his backyard at Del Mar, it would be a tempting spot for his connections – Hronis Racing, breeder Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm, and Woodford Racing. The Santa Anita Sprint Championship is a “Win and You’re In” for the Sprint, although I’d find him fascinating on a stretch-out for the Dirt Mile (G1) too.

Hopefully, Flightline will get his opportunity to try a route at some point. Looking further ahead to 2022, I'd love to see him in the Pegasus World Cup (G1). Is it too fanciful to envision a broadening of his horizons to the Middle East? The Saudi Cup can be a demanding nine furlongs around one turn, as Charlatan and Knicks Go learned this year, but Flightline's speed figures to carry well at Dubai's Meydan. That said, it's understandable if his team prefers to map out a domestic campaign rather than pursuing an international early-season agenda. 

Wherever Flightline goes, let’s hope we can enjoy him fulfill his potential on the track.