Please Don't Retire This Horse

Jockey Flavien Prat aboard Flightline waves to the fans | Coady Photo

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“We need a hero,” owner Kosta Hronis said, overcome with emotion standing in the winner's circle following the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, where Flightline (Tapit) ran one of the greatest races in the long history of the sport.

“We need a champion,” he continued. “We need an undefeated horse. Someone who can go out and do this and that's Flightline.”

In those four short sentences Hronis captured the moment, the sentiment and all the reasons why Flightline needs to be brought back for a 2023 campaign. It's because the sport and everyone who loves it needs and deserves more of the magic that this very special horse delivers every time. To the owners, please put horse racing first and your bank accounts second and give the game what would be nothing less than a precious and cherished gift. Please.

Flightline can make a staggering amount next year as a stallion, far more than he ever could make on the racetrack. His five owners all say they are racing fans first, but they are also businesspeople and racing Flightline next year is just not economically practical. The insurance policy alone that they would have to take out would cost millions. He probably will be retired.

I'm trying not to be naive.

But neither will I give up hope.

The NBC cameras closed in on another owner, Terry Finley, after the race and there was a river of tears rushing down his cheeks. He was experiencing what we all hope to experience in our lives, a feeling of pure exhilaration, pure joy. I am sure the other owners, Hronis, Bill Farish, Jane Lyon and Anthony Manganaro all felt the same way. Perhaps other than the birth of a child, there is nothing else in life that can match this. It is indeed priceless.

Money is nice. Money is important. But Finley is never going to weep for joy after viewing the balance in his bank account. That feeling, those tears, what Terry Finley experienced Saturday, can be replicated maybe four or five times next year with what would no doubt be four or five more sensational performances. Does he or any of the other owners really want to let that go?

I wouldn't be saying that if this weren't a once-in-a-lifetime horse. I wouldn't have said that even with American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) or Justify (Scat Daddy). They were wonderful horses, Triple Crown winners, but Flightine has gone to a place where those horses never went. He doesn't live up to the hype. He smashes it. He makes the impossible seem ordinary.

After he won the GI Pacific Classic by 19 1/4 lengths it seemed Flightline could never surpass that performance. But he did. If ever he was going to be in a fight, this was it. The Classic was loaded and the seven opponents presented a far more difficult challenge than the one he faced out at Del Mar. But it was not a fight. It wasn't even a skirmish. Under his passenger, Flavien Prat, he couldn't have been more dominant. Flightline won by

8 1/4 lengths, turning the final two furlongs into a one-horse race. Once again, Prat never had to shift out of cruise control.

“How do you describe greatness?” trainer John Sadler said. “This is a rare horse. It happens every 20 or 30 years. One of the best American racehorses we've seen in a long, long time. And I'm talking back to Secretariat, Seattle Slew. You go through the list.”

It's hard to compare Flightline to Secretariat because they are horses from two very different eras and Flightline has raced only six times. But Secretariat, it should be remembered, lost twice after his other-worldly performance in the 1973 GI Belmont S. and none of his races after the Belmont quite matched what he did that day when he redefined greatness in the Thoroughbred. Flightline somehow seems to get better with every race.

Who is the greatest ever, Flightline or Secretariat? Let's just say this: they both belong in the conversation.

This sport can get you down. There have been the drug scandals with Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis and the rest. You have far too many groups and individuals trying to submarine the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority. The safety and well-being of the animal, both during and after their careers, remains a constant worry. The struggle to get mainstream attention for the game seems like a never-ending, losing battle. On too many days at too many racetracks the grandstands are empty.

But Saturday, it was like those problems had vanished. In the moment, this was indeed the greatest game that there is and we all remembered why we fell in love with it in the first place. Thank you, Flightline.

“This is really good for the business,” Finley said.

Exactly.

So bring him back. While you're at it, plan out a campaign that doesn't include trips to the Middle East. If this isn't going to be about the money then don't make it about money. Make 2023 a celebration and a celebration of American racing. Put the fans first. Run in the GI Pegasus World Cup, the GI Santa Anita H. Come back in the Pacific Classic. End the year back at Santa Anita in the Classic and let's see if he can win this time by a dozen lengths or more.

Then cash in and send him off to stud.

To ask the connections to run him next year is asking a lot. I understand that. It's just that I don't want to see this end and neither should his owners.

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