Unbeaten Flightline crushes field to soar to Breeders’ Cup Classic win

Flightline delivered the performance that fans on both sides of the Atlantic were hoping to see in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Saturday, powering eight-and-a-quarter lengths clear of his field in the home stretch after cruising through the first mile behind a white-hot pace. We will never know for sure if Flightline is as good as Secretariat, the legendary Triple Crown winner in 1973, but the four-year-old now has a very strong claim to be the best American racehorse since.

Life Is Good, who took the Dirt Mile at last year’s Breeders’ Cup, scorched through the opening half-mile in 45 seconds in an attempt to burn off Flightline, who had won his five starts before Saturday’s race by an average margin of 12½ lengths.

It was a futile exercise, and Life Is Good paid the price late on as he faded into fifth place in the stretch while Flavien Prat and Flightline streaked clear. Prat barely moved in Flightline’s saddle as he extended his margin to a record for the Classic, confirming John Sadler’s four-year-old, already the top-rated dirt horse of the last 20 years, as an all-time great.

“He’s been brilliant,” Sadler said, “brilliant is his normal. He didn’t disappoint. He never has.

“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.

“I’ve tried to be a good steward with him, be fair with him. And if you’re good with your horses, they’re good with you.”

An injury shortly after Flightline arrived at Sadler’s yard delayed his racecourse debut until April 2021 and cost him the chance of testing himself against the best of his generation in America’s Triple Crown races. But he has scaled the heights in just six races since, and the question now is whether he will continue his brief career into a third season on the track.

Flightline’s brilliance was the abiding memory of the 39th Breeders’ Cup, but it was also an outstanding meeting for runners trained in Europe, as the visitors took six of the seven races on turf.

There were three more victories on Saturday’s card after a hat-trick on Future Champions Friday, as Rebel’s Romance and Modern Games completed a double for Charlie Appleby in the Turf and Mile respectively and Tuesday, the Oaks winner at Epsom in June, stormed down the home straight to win the Filly & Mare Turf for Aidan O’Brien.

Appleby and O’Brien finished the weekend with three winners apiece, and Appleby’s success with Rebel’s Romance – a first winner at the Breeders’ Cup for James Doyle – means that he has now won six of the last eight races at the meeting in which he has saddled a runner. O’Brien, meanwhile, left Keeneland with three winners at a single Breeders’ Cup for the first time, and Ryan Moore, his No 1 rider, won the Bill Shoemaker Award for the top jockey at the meeting.

Moore delivered Tuesday with an irresistible charge down the home straight, beating the front-running In Italian by a length.

“She had a beautiful trip,” Moore said. “The pace was strong and I was in a good spot. I was able to go where I needed to go.

“She won the Oaks and I thought she would win Group One’s all year, and for whatever reason, things worked against her. She was beaten by [subsequent Arc winner] Alpinista, which was a huge run in hindsight. But today she showed up and put in a really good and professional performance.”

William Buick also left his challenge until the closing stages on Modern Games, running down Shirl’s Speight well inside the final furlong as Kinross and Frankie Dettori also finished strongly into third from a difficult draw in stall 13.

It was a second win at the meeting for Appleby’s colt, following his success in the Juvenile Turf at Del Mar 12 months ago.

“He’s the ultimate professional, he does what it says on the tin, basically,” Appleby said. “He’s a typical [son of] Dubawi, he won’t lie down. He’s not the biggest but he seems to grow an extra inch when he’s over here.”