Flightline lives up to hype in Met Mile

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Flightline makes it look easy in the Met Mile. Tod Marks photo

Anyone got a thesaurus?

You’re going to need one to attempt to do justice to Flightline’s performance in Saturday’s Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.

Dominant. Exceptional. Magnificent.

Are we getting warmer?

Let’s ask Junior Alvarado, jockey of Speaker’s Corner, who came into the race in the best form of his career, went right to the lead when Flightline broke a step slow and held the lead until midway on the far turn.

“I had to let my horse go at the half-mile pole,” Alvarado said, “but he couldn’t keep up. We’ll try to avoid that horse next time.”

Good idea.

Alvarado could only watch – perhaps partly in admiration – as Flightline pulled even on Belmont’s sweeping far turn, grabbed the lead at the 5/16ths pole and galloped to a 6-length win in 1:33.59.

“He overcame adversity and proved himself best,” said John Sadler of the $1 million purchase at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings who is owned in partnership by Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing. “He overcame trouble, a slow start, rough trip, he took up a couple of times and still circled around and proved much the best.”

After the tardy beginning, Flavien Prat hustled Flightline up the rail, but was forced to steady when Speaker’s Corner beat him to the spot. Prat tried again up the backstretch with a similar result, so he took him off the rail to ensure it wouldn’t happen a third time. From there, it was clear sailing.

“He didn’t jump well but after that, I was happy where I was and he was traveling well,” Prat said. “He’s just an incredible horse. … The way he handled himself once I was behind horses, he was comfortable and I was happy where I was. It feels great [when he hits his best stride]. It seems the sky is limitless and it’s been a real pleasure.”

The lightly raced son of Tapit out of the Indian Charlie mare Feathered has only raced four times in 14 months, winning by an average of just under 11 lengths. Any concerns about the cross-country trip, stretch-out to a mile and meeting more seasoned foes were summarily dismissed by his sheer brilliance.

“Winning the Met Mile is so gratifying,” Sadler said. “It’s such a historic race and a stallion-making race and he’s all of those things. He’s the whole package.”

Let’s call it stupendous.

Jack wins the Woody
Jack Christopher turned in a 7-furlong version of Flightline-type dominance in winning the Grade 1 Woody Stephens, albeit against a field that was far less accomplished. Breaking from the rail under Jose Ortiz, he tracked Provocateur before gliding on by on the way to a 10-length laugher in 1:21.18, prompting his trainer to make a very heady comparison.

“This horse is an exceptional talent,” said Chad Brown, who won three of the 13 races on the nine-hour card. “This is my 15th year of training and I’ve never had a dirt horse with this much pure brilliance. He reminds me a lot of Ghostzapper when I worked for Bobby Frankel. He’s a brilliant horse that can probably run any distance.”

Brown said the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational July 23 at Monmouth Park is the next target.

“This is why we work hard and wake up every day,” Ortiz said. “We dream about these kinds of races and he’s a very nice horse. Hopefully he stays healthy and we keep doing it.”

Curlin exacta
On the undercard of a race in which their sire suffered a heartbreaking defeat to a filly, Clairiere and Malathaat ran 1-2 in a star-laden edition of the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps.

The headliner coming in was 2021 champion older dirt female Letruska, but she got into a protracted pace duel with Search Results (:22.75 and :45.23) and gave way early, finishing last. Search Results, who lost by a neck to Malathaat in the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, looked like a winner coming home, but the fractions paid a price.

Clairiere and Joel Rosario nailed Malathaat and John Velazquez at the wire, giving the win to Stonestreet Stables, who campaigned Curlin, and Steve Asmussen, who trained him. The final time was 1:41.10.

“It was heart, soul and guts, absolutely. What can you say about her? She is racing royalty by Curlin out of Cavorting. The race she put together today was beautiful,” Asmussen said. “It’s extra special that she’s a daughter of Curlin.”

Regal result in Just a Game
For the second day in a row, Brown had a heavily favored French-bred run inexplicably poorly. For the second day in a row, he won the race anyway.

Saturday it was Speak Of The Devil turning in a clunker at even-money in the Grade 1 Just A Game, finishing fourth of five a day after Rougir ran fourth in the Grade 1 New York Stakes to stablemate Bleecker Street. Brown trainee Regal Glory got the money Saturday, tracking leaders Leggs Galore and In Italian before taking control at the top of the stretch and running off to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

“Many years ago [1980] I campaigned Just A Game and she was a great mare who put a large string of victories together and was a great champion,” winning owner Peter Brant said. “To have this race named after her is a great pleasure and now to win the race is very, very special.”

Brown longshot?
You know it’s a strange race when Brown has four starters, none of them is the favorite and two are 19-1. Then one of them wins.

Tribhuvan made it look easy in the Grade 1 Manhattan, opening up a 7-length lead and taking a surprisingly easy 3 1/2-length decision over stablemate Adhamo.

“I knew I was the only speed in the race,” jockey Manny Franco said. “I just wanted to make sure I broke good and put my horse on the lead. I was really comfortable with the way I was traveling and didn’t want anyone to close to me and the horse responded really well.”

Welcome home
Casa Creed came into the Grade 1 Jaipur off races in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but he proved again to know how to find his way to the Belmont winner’s circle.

Reinforcing the idea that you don’t worry about the travel and layoff when Bill Mott is doing the training, Casa Creed made his patented off-the-pace run, getting by Arrest Me Red and True Valour very late to win the Jaipur for the second year in a row.

“It’s great to get back-to-back wins in the Jaipur with him,” Mott said. “He’s a neat horse. He’s a real warrior who’s gotten better with age. We finally found out what he wants to do. He wants to run in the Jaipur every year.”

Seems simple enough.

No Echo, no contest
The Grade 1 Acorn kicked off the stakes portion of the card and what looked on paper like a two-horse race became a cakewalk for Matareya when Echo Zulu was scratched at the gate due to lameness in her left front, according to NYRA Director of Veterinarians Dr. Anthony Verderosa.

The Godolphin-owned, Brad Cox-trained granddaughter of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker led every step in a 6 1/4-length win, covering the mile in 1:35.77. Maryland-bred Divine Huntress was second.

“I was pretty much going to ride her the same with or without the scratch,” Prat said. “She broke super, super sharp and got me right to the lead and she was cruising all the way around.”

Fearless competitor
There was a capacity crowd in the winner’s circle after the Grade 2 Brooklyn as there always is when a horse owned by Mike Repole is victorious. Fearless brought them out of the box seats in droves, winning the 12-furlong dirt marathon under Luis Saez in a 2:30.45.

“The horse can go six furlongs to a mile and a half. He’s a gelding, so as long as he’s healthy he’s going to be around awhile,” said Repole, who would later see horses he co-owns run 1-2 in the Belmont in Mo Donegal and Nest.