Division Rankings: Flightline exceeds the hype

Division Rankings: Flightline exceeds the hype
Photo: Scott Serio / Eclipse Sportswire

Much has been written about Flightline, and as avid readers of these Division Rankings know, I have been slow to join the growing number of fans and media who held this horse in such high regard after only four starts in 14 months – all around one turn.

All that went out the window for me after Flightline’s Pacific Classic (G1) performance. It wasn’t just the fast speed figures or the distance he won by, it was how he looked and moved in what I consider to be one of the greatest single race performances I have ever seen.

Before I dive into more of my Flightline thoughts, let's take a look at this week's updated Division Rankings. 

Older dirt males

1. Flightline. Simply put, his Pacific Classic performance was one the best we have seen in the last several decades. If he shows up in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the others are running for second place. He has a stranglehold now on this Eclipse and Horse of the Year. The question on everyone's mind now is how fast will be run at Keeneland and how much will he win by. He will be the shortest priced Breeders' Cup race favorite in history.

2. Life Is Good. Ran a monster race in the Whitney (G1) but can he can win the 10-furlong Breeders' Cup Classic? No. he will go next in the Woodward (G1) at Aqueduct Oct. 1, but regardless of what happens there I fully expect his connections to opt for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile instead of facing Flightline in the Classic.

3. Olympiad. Got back to his winning ways in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and in a normal season he would be in the thick of things for this divisional Eclipse. But it would take one of the biggest upsets we have seen – defeating Flightline in the Breeders' Cup Classic – to win this divisional Eclipse.

4. Country Grammer. Ran his race when a distant runner-up to Flightline in the Pacific Classic, finishing clear of the rest. Could get another race before the Breeders' Cup, but like everyone else in this division, he is far behind Flightline.

5. Happy Saver. Yes, he moves into the top five this week. Why? Because he fires every time and has finished behind only the best in the division this year. I also believe that the 10 furlongs of the Breeders' Cup Classic will be perfect for him.

Next 5: Hot Rod Charlie, Art Collector, Royal Ship, Express Train, Americanrevolution.

Older dirt females

1. Clairiere. Was up the track in the recent Personal Ensign (G1), where she suffered a cut to her tongue at the start of the race. Stays here on top in these rankings because she has defeated Malathaat in two of their three meetings, both Grade 1 events. Recency bias aside, that matters in this rankings.

2. Malathaat. Scored her second win of the year from four starts in the Personal Ensign. The Personal Ensign was her first Grade 1 win of the season, but she still hasn't done enough to unseat the No. 1 Clairiere. Could run in the Spinster (G1) at Keeneland for her next start.

3. Search Results. Tough-luck runner-up to Malathaat in the Personal Ensign, this gal fires her best every time. Is a major player in this division and could be flying under the radar come Breeders' Cup time.

4. Letruska. She had no excuses when finishing third in the Personal Ensign, and perhaps she has lost a step or two now at age 6. She likely will run in the Spinster next and still is dangerous when she is at the top of her game.

5. Blue StripeThis mare from South America has been getting better and better, and don't be surprised to see her continue her winning ways and be a major contender on Breeders' Cup time. Scored a facile win in the recent Clement Hirsch (G1) at Del Mar.

Next 5: Shedaresthedevil, Pauline's Pearl, Super Quick, Private Mission, Miss Leslie.

3-year-old males

1. Epicenter
. Facile winner of the Travers (G1) a few weeks back, this guy is a near cinch for the Eclipse in this division. Will train up the to the Breeders' Cup Classic, where he will have the daunting task of facing Flightline.
2. Cyberknife.
The Haskell (G1) winner finished a very good runner-up to Epicenter in the Travers, and I guess he could still win this Eclipse should he win the Breeders' Cup Classic, but that is a pipe dream. Still the only member of this class with two Grade 1 wins around two turns.
3. Zandon
. In a blanket finish for the three spots underneath Epicenter in the Travers, this guy came away with a third-place finish. Seems a cut below the top-ranked Epicenter.
4. Taiba
. Looked like a winner in the stretch of the Haskell but didn't see Cyberknife until it was too late. To his credit, he did rebreak once he saw his rival but was edged at the wire. Would have loved to see him in the Travers, but he will may appear in the upcoming Pennsylvania Derby (G1).
5. Rich Strike
. Look, you have to give this guy credit for running a very good race in the Travers, missing the runner-up spot by a nose and a neck. He will run next in the Lukas Classic (G2) on Oct. 1 at Churchill Downs.
Next 5: Early Voting, Tawny Port, Charge It, Jack Christopher, White Abarrio.
3-year-old females

1. Nest
. Dominant again last out in the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga, this gal clearly thrives the longer she goes. Before that she was a dominant winner of the CCA Oaks (G1), beating her rival Secret Oath by double-digit lengths. Seemingly has command of this division now, and up next is probably a run against older females in the Spinster at Keeneland.

2. Secret Oath
. The Kentucky Oaks winner was just second best again, this time in the Alabama. Runner-up to Nest in her last two starts, she will need to run the table to have a shot at the Eclipse now. Likely next start will be the Cotillion (G1) at Parx on Sept. 24.
3. Moira
. Dominant winner of the Queens Plate over males in Canada, she is unbeaten in three starts this season. Her connections are thinking big and skipped the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown and instead will point her to the Cotillion (G1) at Parx. We will find out then just how good this daughter of Ghostzapper really is.

4. Echo Zulu. Was a gate scratch in the Acorn (G1) last time out and has since been found to have a strain in a left front suspensory. She previously had gained much respect with her solid run in the Kentucky Oaks, where she conceded the early lead to a long shot while attending solid early fractions only to begrudgingly give way at the end to finish fourth, beaten a length for the runner-up spot. On the shelf for now.
5. Kathleen O. Suffered her first loss when fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, but she hardly disgraced herself. She was beaten only fourth lengths for all the marbles. She's been given a freshening and finally had her first work since the Kentucky Oaks last week.
Next 5: Matareya, Green Up, Interstatedaydream, Under the Stars, Desert Dawn.

Turf males

1. Count Again. This guy has racked up two Grade 1 wins already this season and is 3-for-4 on the year. His win over Smooth Like Strait in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) was his best effort yet. The only member of this division who has multiple Grade 1 wins on the season thus far. Stays here on top because no one else in this division has stood out.

2. Gufo. The Sword Dancer (G1) winner just missed at Kentucky Downs when runner-up to Red Knight in the Kentucky Turf Cup (G2). He started his 2022 season off right with a facile two-length win in the Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream but then finished runner-up in the Man O' War Stakes (G1) and third in the Manhattan (G1), both at Belmont Park.

3. Yibir. Finally got back into the win column in the Princess of Wales's Close Brothers Stakes (G2) at Newmarket. Last year's Breeders' Cup Turf winner had two seconds and a third in his previous starts this season. Had to miss a scheduled start in this weekend's Sword Dancer because of a "minor setback," according to his connections, and now will miss the Breeders' Cup and point to the Dubai meet in 2023.

4. Red Knight. He has run only two times this year but has won both times. This 8-year-old gelding is fresh and, considering the lack of depth in this division stateside, has every right to be ranked this high.

5. Colonel Liam. He found the waters a bit too deep in the Dubai Turf (G1), where he finished ninth. Previously he ran huge in defending his Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and seemed better than ever despite his long layoff. There is a wide gap between grass horses in this country and overseas – and not for the better. Hasn't had a work in a while and will continue to drop in the coming weeks.

Next 5: Golden Pal, Santin, Smooth Like Strait, Casa Creed, Tribhuvan.

Turf females

1. Regal Glory. Found the waters a bit too deep when trying males last time out in the Fourstardave (G1) as she finished runner-up, her first loss of the season. Previously she was outstanding in the Just a Game (G1) at Belmont on Belmont Stakes day. She started her season off with a win in the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) and then won the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland over a strong field. Still has the lead in this division on the strength of her two Grade 1 wins this season.

2. War Like Goddess. Defeated last out in the Flower Bowl (G2), but she was severely compromised by a extremely slow pace. Given her coming from far out of it running style, this loss can be forgiven. The Breeders' Cup Turf against the males could be the long-range goal for this gal.

3. Going Global. Upset last weekend when finishing runner-up in the John C. Mabee (G2) at Del Mar. Previous to that she scored a facile three-length win in the Yellow Ribbon (G2) at Del Mar. Earlier this season she scored in the Royal Heroine (G2) at Santa Anita. The best female turfer on the West Coast, she should get her chance against the best in this division later this year at the Breeders' Cup.

4. Bleecker Street. Suffered the first loss of her career last time out in the Diana (G1) after starting her career 7-for-7. She put in her run from the back but had too much to do when finishing third. I won't drop her off because of that one loss, but now she is on the shelf with an injury. Will drop in the coming weeks.

5. In Italian. Scored her biggest win to date last time in the Diana at Saratoga, where she went wire-to-wire setting quick early fractions and never coming back to the field.

Next 5: Dalika, Ocean Road, Technical Analysis, Avenue de France, Princess Grace. 

Male sprinters

1. Jackie's Warrior. One of the bigger sprint upsets we have seen in awhile, this guy was defeated in the Forego (G1) last time out at Saratoga when runner-up to Cody's Wish. Still, he has a stranglehold on this Eclipse and will get my vote win, lose, or draw in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, his final career start.

2. Jack Christopher. Back sprinting, he was dominant in the Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) at seven furlongs over the Saratoga oval. No matter which Breeders' Cup race his connections choose – the Dirt Mile or Sprint –– he will be a major player.

3. American Theorem. Was runner-up in the Pat O'Brien (G2) after winning the last two graded sprint stakes out west. Still, he figures to be the West Coast's best hope come Breeders' Cup Sprint time.

4. Cody's Wish. Upset winner of the Forego (G1), this guy appears to be the real deal. The Forego was his sixth win from 10 starts but only his second graded-stakes win. Will need to see him do it again before he moves up.

5. Golden Pal. Won last time out in the Troy Stakes (G3) at Saratoga, but only by a nose. Should have one more start prior to his Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint title defense.

Next 5: Laurel River, Speakers Corner, Aloha West, Gunite, Brickyard Ride.

Female sprinters

1. Obligatory. Finsihed third to Goodnight Olive last out in the Ballerina (G1), but I still believe she will be the one to beat come Breeders' Cup day. Earlier this season she beat the best in this division except for Ce Ce in the Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs with a strong closing kick. Several could be ranked here, but she resides here for now.

2. Goodnight Olive. Unbeaten in three starts this season, and last time out she scored her first graded stakes win in the Ballerina, defeating several ranked here. Like Cody's Wish on the male side, I will need to see her do it again before she moves up.

3. Ce Ce. Off the board in the Ballerina last time out. Last season's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner should get one more start before an expected defense of her Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint title.

4. Just One Time. The beaten favorite in the Derby City, she finished third with no excuses. Previously this season she won the Madison (G1) at Keeneland and the Inside Information (G2) at Gulfstream.

5. Kimari. Connections ran her in the Honorable Miss (G2), and she rewarded them with a nice win. I think she is far better on the dirt and the connections finally agree – they have charted a path to get her to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

Next 5: Edgeway, Lady Rocket, Bell's the One, Caramel Swirl, Becca Taylor.

So here we are, right smack dab in the middle of the Flightline era. How long will it last? That’s anyone’s guess. With the recent announcement of Flightline’s breeding rights going to Lane's End Farm, skeptics will say there is little to no chance he runs again after the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The connections say otherwise, that there is a good chance we see this horse next year at age 5.

All that will be sorted out after the Breeders’ Cup, so let’s concentrate on the now.

We have a horse in Flightline who is unbeaten and untested in five starts. It is no exaggeration to write that the first five starts of his career are most spectacular first five starts of any racehorse we have ever seen, albeit they took place over 14 months.

Although I believe Fligthline is unbeatable come Breeders’ Cup day, I won’t go overboard and place this guy among the all-time greats. He can’t be for many reasons, but mainly because of his lack of races and spacing between starts. Think of it this way: Would Secretariat ever have lost with three months between each start? Spectacular Bid?

Part of being an all-time great is running a full schedule and withstanding the rigors of racing. Secretariat ran nine times in his juvenile season alone. Spectacular Bid ran nine times in his 4-year-old season in what many consider to be the greatest season ever had by an older dirt male. He also was undefeated in 22 races from seven to 10 furlongs.

Flightline will run three times this year. So no, he can never be considered an all-time great with horses from the past who earned it on the racetrack.

But, although Flightline can never be measured against the past greats, he can certainly lead the way in another category: the greatest horses we have seen who rarely raced but were brilliant when they did run.

Ghostzapper is the best comp right now to Flightline, and if Flightline wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic he will surpass Ghostzapper as the greatest horse we have seen in this category.

Flightline will be the shortest priced Breeders’ Cup race favorite in history. Assuming he wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he will win the Eclipse as the top older dirt male with the fewest starts (three) of any previous winner. As for Horse of the Year, he will surpass Ghostzapper (four starts) as the horse with the fewest starts to win that award as well.

In every previous year around this time, we would be searching for our Breeders’ Cup Classic horse, wondering which horses would make it to the Classic. But that’s all out the window this year.

If Flightline is in the gate, there are only two questions on everyone’s mind. How much will Flightline win by, and how fast will he run?

These are heady times indeed.

Meet Chip Gehrke

Chip Gehrke has been with Horse Racing Nation since 2015 and currently serves as a Featured Writer. Based outside of Chicago, Chip can be found in the press box many weekends during the Arlington Park meet. The On The Air With Dr. Derby name originates from his many local sports radio show appearances as an on-air racing expert. 

In 2017, Chip was chosen to be a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. As a part of the NTWAB, Chip became a voter for the year-end Eclipse Awards, something he takes very seriously. Some of Chip's favorite writings from the last couple of years is the best way to get to know him.

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