All Eyes on Flightline In Pacific Classic

Flightline following the Met | Sarah Andrew


There is no such thing as a sure thing in horse racing, but 'TDN Rising Star' Flightline (Tapit) will be bet as if Saturday's GI TVG Pacific Classic–a 'Win and You're In' qualifier for the GI Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland Nov. 5–is already the proverbial fait accompli.

And why not, really?

His four towering victories in as many trips to the races have come by an average winning margin of better than 13 lengths. His lowest Beyer Speed Figure is a downright pedestrian 105 earned for his debut just 18 months ago at Santa Anita, but certainly that number could have been at least a few points stronger had Flavien Prat asked him for any sort of effort. Sure, he was judiciously managed with only two subsequent appearances at three, but they were no less monstrous, including an 11 1/2-length thumping of a field including not only the hard-knocking Stilleto Boy (Shackleford), but also Dr. Schivel (Violence), who endured a dirty beat in the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint on his previous start.

The only spot of true adversity Flightline–his $1-million Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling pricetag now looking an outright steal–has faced came when drawn the rail at 45 cents on the dollar in the GI Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan H. at Belmont June 11. Not the first horse to fluff the start over that track's one-turn mile, the bay settled kindly enough off chief market rival and big-figure GI Carter H. hero Speaker's Corner (Street Sense), but claimed that one at will–the six-furlong split of 1:08.54 was almost an afterthought–and scampered home by a half-dozen lengths. While a trip to Saratoga and a possible clash with fellow 'Rising Star' Life Is Good (Into Mischief) in the GI Whitney H. was mooted, connections have decided on the Del Mar centerpiece.

With the start of the Classic at the top of the chute, there will be plenty of time for each of the six entrants to find their spot. Trainer John Sadler will not be using the draw as any sort of alibi if things don't go well Saturday.

“You have about a quarter of a mile run into the first turn so you have time to work out a nice trip,” said the conditioner, who sent out Hronis Racing's Tripoli (Kitten's Joy) to upset last year's Classic. “We thought most of the posts would have been good because of the relatively small field and he's tactical, he doesn't have to have the lead and he doesn't have to be way back either.”

Country Grammer (Tonalist) will look to become the first since California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit) in 2016 to win the G1 Dubai World Cup and Pacific Classic in the same season. The bay prepped for this with a useful runner-up effort to Royal Ship (Brz) (Midshipman) in the GII San Diego H. July 30, but the two hole left trainer Bob Baffert a bit out in the cold.

“I'd have preferred a middle to outside post,” said Baffert, currently tied with Bobby Frankel on six Classic victories. “He runs better when he's on the outside. Frankie Dettori was inside the whole way and he got to the outside. That's why he won the Dubai World Cup. If he had been on the outside [when second] in [the Saudi Cup], I think he would have won.”

Flightline's presence is unlikely to trouble trainer Richard Mandella, who is not only a four-time winner of the Classic, but was the architect of one of racing's greatest upsets. Few will confuse Royal Ship and Extra Hope (Shanghai Bobby) with Dare and Go and Siphon (Brz), but the former's defeat of Cigar here in 1996, aided massively by his front-running stable companion, is not soon to be forgotten.

The Classic field is completed by Express Train (Union Rags), who figures no better than a distant fourth favorite, but whose credentials include a tough win in this year's GI Santa Anita H., so the distance is clearly up his alley.




Elsewhere at the Seaside Oval…

A trio of Grade II stakes support the undercard, and the top two finishers from last year's Classic are engaged, albeit on the turf. Tizamagician (Tiznow) is not known for his grass prowess, but he does enjoy a staying trip and ends up in the GII Del Mar H. over 11 furlongs, which offers the winner a fees-paid berth into the GI Longines Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland Nov. 5. The race looks to go through the Michael McCarthy-trained Master Piece (Chi) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}), who went within a half-length of upsetting last year's renewal and who exits a 16-1 upset of the mile-and-an-eighth GII Eddie Read S. July 31.

The aforementioned Tripoli cuts back in trip for the GII Del Mar Mile, where the chestnut looks for a first turf win. In a race lacking California's top grass milers, the 5-year-old takes on Eddie Read second and third Hong Kong Harry (Ire) (Es Que Love {Ire}) and Cathkin Peak (Ire) (Alhebayeb {Ire}), last year's DMR H. upsetter Astronaut (Quality Road) and the progressive Goliad (War Front).

Nine sophomore turf gallopers are set for the GII Del Mar Derby, led by the outposted Balnikhov (Ire) (Adaay {Ire}), impressive winner of his local debut in the restricted Oceanside S. on opening day July 22. Posing the biggest threats are GIII La Jolla H. hero Cabo Spirit (Pioneerof the Nile); War At Sea (War Front), who bested the latter in the June 4 Cinema S. at Santa Anita; and last-out allowance scorer Dandy Warhol (Ire) (Dandy Man {Ire}).

Catch 'Pletch' To Win the Gold Cup…

Saratoga plays only a slight second fiddle to Del Mar Saturday, but hosts a pair of Breeders' Cup qualifiers of its own as well.

Even with 'TDN Rising Star' Life Is Good (Into Mischief) remaining in the shedrow, trainer Todd Pletcher fields half of the eight runners for the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup, with a berth in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic to play for. The shortest-priced of the quartet is last year's GI Cigar Mile H. hero, the New York-bred horse of the year Americanrevolution (Constitution), who won the Albany S. over this strip last year and will look to reverse form with Olympiad (Speightstown), who had a convincing 2 1/4-length bulge on him in the GII Stephen Foster S. at Churchill July 2.

“He's proven versatile enough at a mile and an eighth and a mile, but he gives you the impression that he's still finding more at the end of a mile and an eighth,” the Hall of Famer said. “Hopefully, that means he can carry it on to a mile and a quarter.”

The distance is no query for stablemate Dynamic One (Union Rags). Also a Saratoga stakes winner, having taken out last year's Curlin S., the $725,000 KEESEP yearling has posted solid form this term and enters the Gold Cup off a battling nose defeat of 'TDN Rising Star' First Captain (Curlin) in the GII Suburban S. downstate July 9.

“More than anything, he's just become a little more professional in his races and he's figured it out,” Pletcher said of the 4-year-old. “I would say he's made quite a bit of mental progress.”

Not surprisingly, trainer Shug McGaughey gives First Captain a “big chance” to turn the tables this weekend.

“It's a very good race,” McGaughey said. “In his continued career, it would be a big thing to win it. We're looking forward to running him.”

Pletcher also saddles two outsiders in Untreated (Nyquist) and 2021 GI Runhappy Travers S. runner-up Keepmeinmind (Laoban).

The GII Flower Bowl S., whose winner earns a spot in the GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, features heavily favored War Like Goddess (English Channel), an easy winner when contested as a Grade I last term and subsequently an unlucky third to Loves Only You (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) in the FM Turf at Del Mar. Temple City Terror (Temple City) and Virginia Joy (Ger) (Soldier Hollow {GB}) were second and third, respectively, behind War Like Goddess in the 12-furlong GII Glens Falls S. Aug. 6 and look likeliest to fill out the minors.

'Rising Star' Annapolis (War Front) shapes as a tough nut to crack in the afternoon's other graded event, the GIII Saranac S. The Bass homebred cuts back to the mile and a sixteenth off an excellent second-place effort behind the classy Nations Pride (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}) in the GI Saratoga Derby Invitational S. Aug. 6. Connections opt for this shorter trip instead of stretching out farther for the 12-furlong GI Caesars Jockey Club Derby Sept. 17.

“We wanted to back him up a little bit and it's a better distance than the mile and a half at Aqueduct. He's doing well and ready to run,” Pletcher said.




A 'Million' Reasons to Play…

Saturday's final graded stakes takes place at the Kentucky/Tennessee border with the running of the $1-million GIII WinStar Mint Million S.

Godolphin's Pixelate (City Zip) returns to the galloping layout at Kentucky Downs in search of a successful defense of his title, having defeated Somelikeithotbrown (Big Brown) by 2 1/2 lengths this time last year. Atone (Into Mischief) draws outside, and though winless from five starts this season, has run some races that would factor here. Kentucky Ghost (Ghostzapper) was second in a division of the TVG S. last season and can go a better race down in trip here.


WATCH: The TDN Writers' Room previews this weekend's action

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