May 19, 2024

Flightline acclaimed as Horse of the Year

Flightline's jockey Flavien Prat looks for the competition in the Breeders' Cup Classic (Photo by Horsephotos.com)

Just as Flightline streaked light years ahead on the racetrack, so did the unbeaten phenom run away with Horse of the Year honors at Thursday night’s 52nd annual Eclipse Awards gala at The Breakers Palm Beach.

The outcome was a mere formality for the superstar who was just feted as the World’s Best Racehorse in a Jan. 17 ceremony in London. The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities accorded him a lofty 140 rating, reaching heights achieved on their scale only once before – by Frankel.

Thus any suspense about his domestic crown revolved around the sheer magnitude of his tally of votes. The electorate comprised members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form (DRF), and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB).

In lieu of a superfluous envelope, NTRA President and CEO Tom Rooney simply cued the attendees to all announce it together, and the cry of “Flightline!” resounded. It was a coronation by acclamation, fitting for racing’s newest king.

For the record, Flightline received 239 of 246 first-place votes cast for Horse of the Year, with four abstentions and a single vote for three others. The result was nearly the same in the older dirt male category, with Flightline garnering 240 of 246 first-place votes, two voters abstaining, and single ballots cast for four others. In both cases, there were more abstentions than first-place votes for any other individual.

Flightline – Horse of the Year, Champion Older Dirt Male

Flightline’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

At this time last year, a lightly-raced beast named Flightline was fueling hopes that he could be a horse of historic significance. Under masterful management by trainer John Sadler, he turned those dreams into reality in 2022. Flightline took just three starts to establish himself not only as the world’s best horse, but as a champion of the very highest order.

A blueblood son of Tapit and the Grade 3-winning Indian Charlie mare Feathered, Flightline had the physique to command $1 million as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling. His breeder, Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Equine, stayed in for a share in the promising bay. The ownership group also comprised Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, West Point Thoroughbreds, and finally Woodford Thoroughbreds, which came aboard after the colt’s debut.

Flightline was unraced at two, and his sophomore season in 2021 was limited to three well-spaced starts. But that trio proved to be a collective revelation, as he demolished the competition by double-digit lengths in each outing. His show-stopping debut that spring at Santa Anita was followed by a Del Mar allowance conquest over Labor Day weekend. Flightline aced his class test in the Malibu (G1), confirming himself as a monster around one turn.

The tantalizing question for his hotly-anticipated 2022 campaign was whether Flightline would transfer that ability over a route of ground. He was not going to be popped that question in his first start back, for Sadler had circled the seven-furlong San Carlos (G2) as his launching pad. But a strained hock scrapped those plans.

Flightline ended up going straight into his main early-season target, the June 11 Metropolitan H. (G1), without the benefit of a prep. In his first try at a mile, albeit around one turn at Belmont Park, and his first experience of shipping, he didn’t break well. Flightline found himself in a potentially tricky situation as Speaker’s Corner shut the door on him, and regular rider Flavien Prat had to tap on the brakes. He soon regrouped into a tracking second, then simply blew away Speaker’s Corner, who at the time was in the form of his life. The race was effectively over on the far turn, and Flightline drew off by six lengths.

The Met Mile was just a warm-up act for his sensational Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar, where the step up to 1 1/4 miles only increased his superiority. Flightline put the race away on the backstretch and widened at will, in a breathtaking performance reminiscent of Secretariat. He padded his margin to 19 1/4 lengths over one of the best dirt performers around at that distance, reigning Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Country Grammer. He could have smashed the track record if asked, but was content to equal his career-best 117 Brisnet Speed rating.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) gave Flightline the opportunity to boss a field of even greater strength in depth, and he seized it. Readily stalking the high speed of multiple Grade 1 star Life Is Good, Flightline dispatched him with remarkable ease and crossed the wire 8 1/4 lengths clear of Olympiad. The clash of generations never really materialized; multiple Grade 1-winning sophomore Taiba and Kentucky Derby (G1) upsetter Rich Strike couldn’t get closer than third and fourth, and divisional champion Epicenter was pulled up with a career-ending injury.

Flightline retires at his peak, with a perfect 6-for-6 mark and $4,514,800 in earnings. Odds-on every time he raced, he leaves racing fans to debate whether a horse of his limited experience can be hailed as an all-time great. But there is no debate regarding his stature on the 2022 landscape.

Pick your favorite metaphor – a meteor shooting across the sky, a colossus bestriding earth – Flightline had us all reaching for new ways to describe his utter dominance. The superlative specimen now embarks upon a stud career at Lane’s End, for a fee of $200,000, live foal/stands and nurses.

HORSE OF THE YEAR FIRST-PLACE VOTES
FLIGHTLINE239
(Voter abstentions)(4)
Country Grammer1
Life Is Good1
Malathaat1
OLDER DIRT MALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES
FLIGHTLINE240
(Voter abstentions)(2)
Country Grammer1
Jackie’s Warrior1
Life Is Good1
Olympiad 1

Forte – Champion Two-Year-Old Male

Forte’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Living up to his name, Forte was “strong” indeed in a freshman campaign that spanned from late May through his Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup victory. The Todd Pletcher pupil commanded attention straightaway with a 7 3/4-length debut romp at Belmont Park. His only loss came next time in the Sanford (G3) at Saratoga, where he rallied for a wide-trip fourth. Forte hinted that he’d appreciate more ground, and duly rebounded at the Spa in the seven-furlong Hopeful (G1). In his two-turn debut in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, he outdueled Loggins in a thriller. That proved to be valuable experience for the son of Violence. Back over the same track and 1 1/16-mile trip for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Forte rolled from off the pace to floor odds-on Cave Rock and seal a championship. The Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable runner is scheduled to resume on the Kentucky Derby trail in the Mar. 4 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park. The individual favorite in the two most recent pools of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, Forte closed at 10-1 in Pool 2 and 7-1 in Pool 3 that was conducted Jan. 20-22.

TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
FORTE243
Cave Rock2

Wonder Wheel – Champion Two-Year-Old Filly

Wonder Wheel’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

An emphatic, come-from-behind victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Keeneland in early November clinched division honors for the Mark Casse-trained Wonder Wheel, who recorded four wins in five starts. Precocious enough to win twice at the Churchill Downs spring meet, including the six-furlong Debutante S. by 6 3/4 lengths, Wonder Wheel endured her lone setback of the season when a next-out second in the Spinaway (G1) at Saratoga. However, the daughter of Into Mischief showcased her two-turn prowess with back-to-back wins in the Alcibiades (G1), by a nose in front-running fashion, and in the Juvenile Fillies, in which she rallied from 11th in the final half-mile to win by three lengths. Owned by D. J. Stable, Wonder Wheel is under consideration for the Feb. 11 Suncoast S. at Tampa Bay Downs as the starting point for her sophomore campaign.

TWO-YEAR-OLD FILLY FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
WONDER WHEEL240
Hoosier Philly3

Epicenter – Champion Three-Year-Old Male

Epicenter’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Epicenter emerged as a leading Kentucky Derby contender in February, and the Steve Asmussen-trained colt proved to be the standard bearer for the three-year-old male division all season. Taiba tried to make a late push, recording his third Grade 1 win of the season in late December, but Epicenter comfortably held his rival safe in the voting. Epicenter’s biggest win came in the Travers (G1), and he racked up additional victories in the Louisiana Derby (G2), Risen Star (G2), and Jim Dandy (G2) along the way to earning more than $2.8 million for owner Winchell Thoroughbreds (Joan Winchell and Ron Winchell). A Kentucky-bred son of Not This Time, Epicenter also finished second as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (G1). The hard-trying bay sophomore didn’t get the opportunity to show his best after being pulled up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Epicenter will launch his next career in 2023 as a promising stallion prospect for Ashford Stud.

THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP THREE)
EPICENTER155
Taiba66
Modern Games18

Nest – Champion Three-Year-Old Filly

Nest’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Although second best in the division’s most lucrative event, the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Nest otherwise dominated her peers throughout the 2022 season. An authoritative winner of the Suncoast S. at Tampa Bay Downs and Ashland (G1) at Keeneland prior to the Kentucky Oaks, Nest subsequently finished second in the classic Belmont S. (G1) to fellow Pletcher trainee Mo Donegal. Returning to the filly ranks at Saratoga, Nest avenged her loss to Secret Oath at Churchill Downs with a 12 1/4-length score in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and then added on a 4 1/4-length tally in the Alabama (G1). Similarly, Nest dominated a modest renewal of the Beldame (G2) at Aqueduct against older rivals, but turned in a flat performance in her season finale, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Keeneland, finishing fourth by more than three lengths to older stablemate Malathaat. Owned by the partnership of Mike Repole, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Michael House, the daughter of Curlin stays in training at four.

THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
NEST238
Tuesday4

Malathaat – Champion Older Dirt Female

Malathaat’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Malathaat is the eighth filly in the Eclipse Award era to be voted best of her division at age three and as an older horse, but the first to do so in consecutive years since Royal Delta in 2011-12. It wasn’t an easy championship to secure, either, as the race was decided by a thrilling, three-way photo in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland, which Malathaat won by a neck from Blue Stripe, with Clairiere a nose behind the runner-up. Malathaat kicked off her campaign at Keeneland, too, taking the Doubledogdare (G3) by a measured three parts of a length. Run down by Clairiere in both the Ogden Phipps (G1) and Shuvee (G2) in her next two outings, Malathaat eventually responded to the mid-season addition of blinkers by concluding her stellar career with three straight victories, the Personal Ensign (G1) and Spinster (G1) preceding her Breeders’ Cup triumph. Owned by Shadwell Farm and trained by Pletcher, the daughter of Curlin is scheduled to be bred to Into Mischief this year.

OLDER DIRT FEMALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP THREE)
MALATHAAT241
Clairiere2
Goodnight Olive2

Modern Games – Champion Turf Male

Modern Games’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

By turning a Grade 1 double in his North American starts, including another Breeders’ Cup trophy, British shipper Modern Games plundered the champion turf male title. He’s the second straight Godolphin homebred from the Charlie Appleby yard to do so, following Yibir, likewise a son of Dubawi. Hero of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Modern Games returned triumphant in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) (G1). He was subsequently third from a poor draw when stretching out in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1), but thrived once sticking to a mile. After an excellent second to the world’s top turf horse, Baaeed, in the Sussex (G1), Modern Games was next seen crushing the Woodbine Mile (G1) – the first three-year-old to win the turf feature. Softish going at Ascot on Champions Day contributed to his runner-up effort in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1). Back in his preferred conditions at Keeneland, Modern Games bounced right back to justify favoritism in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), thereby joining an exclusive club of horses to win two different Breeders’ Cup races. Modern Games is targeting Santa Anita this November, when he could emulate Goldikova and Beholder as a three-time Breeders’ Cup champion.

TURF MALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
MODERN GAMES189
Rebel’s Romance50

Regal Glory – Champion Turf Female

Regal Glory’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

As an accomplished performer for several seasons, Regal Glory had her retirement plans set for early 2022, her date with leading sire Into Mischief already booked. But after the six-year-old continued to sparkle in the inaugural Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3), owner Peter Brant opted to keep racing. Regal Glory ratified the decision by collecting three more Grade 1 trophies and ultimately the Eclipse Award in a contentious division, becoming the eighth champion turf female trained by Chad Brown. The daughter of Animal Kingdom captured the Jenny Wiley (G1) and rolled to a devastating score in the Just a Game (G1), a particularly meaningful win for Brant, who had campaigned the race honoree. After seconds in the Fourstardave (G1) (versus males) and First Lady (G1), she threw in a rare clunker in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Regal Glory reasserted her brilliance by repeating in the Dec. 4 Matriarch (G1), a 5 1/4-length closing argument that carried the day for enough voters. Her half-brother Cafe Pharoah was just honored as Japan’s champion dirt horse, giving their dam, the Grade 2-winning Mary’s Follies, quite a double. Now Regal Glory is ready to begin her new life as a broodmare.

TURF FEMALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP THREE)
REGAL GLORY96
In Italian51
Warlike Goddess47

Elite Power – Champion Male Sprinter

Elite Power’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Entering 2022 as a four-year-old maiden, Elite Power was an improbable candidate to dethrone Jackie’s Warrior. Indeed, as the divisional champion was romping in the Churchill Downs (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day, Elite Power was only third in a maiden on the undercard. But the Juddmonte colorbearer finished the year with a five-race winning spree, topped by a Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) victory over Jackie’s Warrior, that netted him an Eclipse Award. Elite Power is somewhat atypical for his connections as well. The first champion sprinter trained by Bill Mott, the son of Curlin was also a $900,000 yearling purchase, rather than a homebred. Once Elite Power aired by nine lengths at Belmont Park June 5, he proved unstoppable. The late bloomer rapidly cleared his first- and second-level allowance conditions, changed tactics to romp in his stakes debut in the Vosburgh (G2), and reverted to his closing style to prevail in the Breeders’ Cup. The five-year-old is gearing back up at Payson Park, where he just fired a bullet half-mile in :48.80 on Wednesday.

MALE SPRINTER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP THREE)
ELITE POWER108
Cody’s Wish70
Jackie’s Warrior62

Goodnight Olive – Champion Female Sprinter

Goodnight Olive’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

After enduring various infirmities and setbacks early in her career, Goodnight Olive rewarded the patience of her connections with a sparkling four-race campaign in 2022. Kicking off in late June with an emphatic second-level allowance win at Belmont Park, Goodnight Olive next humbled a third-level allowance field at Saratoga, which set her up for that track’s premier divisional test, the Ballerina H. (G1). Goodnight Olive aced that stakes debut by 2 3/4 lengths, and then trained up to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1), for which she was favored against 11 rivals. She clinched division honors by 2 1/2 lengths, with 2021 juvenile champion Echo Zulu her closest pursuer. A winner six times in seven starts, the now five-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper is scheduled to race again in 2023 for owners First Row Partners and Team Hanley, and trainer Chad Brown.

FEMALE SPRINTER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
GOODNIGHT OLIVE228
Caravel12

Hewick – Champion Steeplechaser

Not since Morley Street (1990-91) more than three decades ago had divisional honors among the jump set been secured by a European raider off a single U.S. appearance and victory. But the performance turned in by the Ireland-based Hewick in the Grand National (G1), an 11 1/2-length success over the best domestic hurdlers around, proved too decisive to ignore by a slim majority (52%) of the participating electorate. Racing for T.J. McDonald and trained by the colorful “Shark” Hanlon, Hewick brought impressive credentials to the Far Hills, New Jersey, course in October, having notched the Bet365 sponsored Gold Cup at Sandown in April and the Galway Plate in July. A relatively young eight years of age this season, Hewick is being aimed for two prestigious events this spring: the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and the world-famous Grand National at Aintree in April.

STEEPLECHASER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
HEWICK113
Snap Decision88

Godolphin – Outstanding Owner and Breeder

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin swept the Eclipse Awards for leading owner and breeder for the second consecutive year. The international operation won four Breeders’ Cup races with homebreds – Cody’s Wish (Dirt Mile [G1]), Mischief Magic (Juvenile Turf Sprint [G1]), Modern Games (Mile), and Rebel’s Romance (Turf [G1]) – and led North American owners by earnings ($16,343,067), graded stakes wins (23), and Grade 1 wins (13). Other top performers included Matareya, Nations Pride, Proxy, Santin, and Speaker’s Corner. Godolphin earned its sixth Eclipse for owner and has been honored thrice for breeder.

OUTSTANDING OWNER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
GODOLPHIN195
Peter Brant20
OUTSTANDING BREEDER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
GODOLPHIN182
Summer Wind Equine30

Todd Pletcher – Outstanding Trainer

Todd Pletcher extended his record, earning an eighth Eclipse Award for leading trainer. His previous wins came in 2004-07, 2010, and 2013-14. The 56-year-old Texas native won 223 races from 1,020 starts (22%), ranking second by stable earnings with $30,482,937, and Pletcher achieved a notable feat in 2022, training three individual champions (Forte, Malathaat, and Nest) in the same season for the second time. He accomplished the milestone in 2007 (English Channel, Lawyer Ron, and Rags to Riches), and fellow Hall of Famers Bob Baffert (2020) and D. Wayne Lukas (1988 and 1995) are the only other trainers to do the same in the Eclipse era. Pletcher was also represented by his fourth Belmont winner, Mo Donegal.

OUTSTANDING TRAINER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
TODD PLETCHER108
Chad Brown95

Irad Ortiz Jr. – Outstanding Jockey

Irad Ortiz Jr. added a fourth Eclipse Award to his laurels, winning by an overwhelming margin following a record-setting campaign in which he set new North American marks for earnings ($37,025,772) and stakes wins (80). He also led all North American jockeys with 325 wins, 48 more than second-best. The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico won three Breeders’ Cup races and earned his second Belmont win via Mo Donegal. Ortiz, who capped a three-year Eclipse Award string in 2020, returned to the mountaintop after finishing second to Joel Rosario last year. His mounts included Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite, and returning champions Elite Power and Nest.

OUTSTANDING JOCKEY FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
IRAD ORTIZ JR.218
Flavien Prat24

Jose Antonio Gomez – Outstanding Apprentice Jockey

After making an impact on the New York circuit during 2022, Jose Antonio Gomez was recognized with the Eclipse Award. The 22-year-old native of Michigan led all North American apprentice riders with $7,647,616 in earnings, compiling 153 wins, and he recorded 471 top three finishes (36%) from 1,312 starts. With riding legend Angel Cordero Jr. as his agent, Gomez has established himself as an up-and-comer in the jockey ranks.

OUTSTANDING APPRENTICE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
JOSE ANTONIO GOMEZ112
Vicente Del-Cid91

Additional awards

Jay Privman, the recently retired doyen of Daily Racing Form, was honored with a Special Eclipse Award for Career Excellence.

The heartwarming victory of Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile won the fans’ online vote for NTRA Moment of the Year.

David Harrison was presented with his Eclipse Award as Horseplayer of the Year, a title he earned at last January’s National Horseplayers Championship (NHC).

Winners in the following six media categories received recognition along with their statuettes:

Photography – Wendy Wooley – “Elbow Room Please,” The Paulick Report, Oct. 1, 2022.

Writing – Feature/Commentary – Tim Layden – “Beneath the Super Bowl’s Turf: The Ghosts of Hollywood Park,” NBCSports.com, Feb. 8, 2022. 

Writing- News Enterprise – Tom Law – “Big Tally,” Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, July 1, 2022

Live Television Programming – NBC Sports Breeders’ Cup World Championships Nov. 4-5, 2022; Lindsay Schanzer, NBC Sports Producer of Horse Racing

Feature Television Programming – NBC Sports – “Cody’s Wish” Nov. 5, 2022; Jack Felling, Coordinating Producer

Audio/Multimedia – Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) – Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Nov. 5, 2022; Mike Penna, HRRN President