Flightline stays unblemished and punches Breeders’ Cup ticket with G1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap score
by Brian Bohl
Flightline proved unstoppable in winning all three of his career starts by double-digit lengths in sprints as a sophomore in 2021. Making his seasonal debut, the Tapit colt proved equally impressive at a one-turn mile, overcoming an awkward start to romp to a six-length score in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap for 3-year-olds and up on Belmont Stakes Day at Belmont Park.
The 129th running of the prestigious race known as the Met Mile served as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Keeneland, with Flightline securing his spot by improving to 4-for-4 with a combined victory margin of 43 1/2 lengths for his career.
Flightline, owned by Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing, drew away from runner-up Happy Saver to complete the course in a final time of 1:33.59 over the fast main track.
Speaker’s Corner earned third-place honors, with last year's Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint-winner Aloha West and Informative completing the order of finish.
The John Sadler trainee did not break sharp from the inside post under jockey Flavien Prat and then steadied briefly behind this year’s Grade 1 Carter-winner Speaker's Corner. But Flightline recovered quickly to challenge pacesetting Speaker’s Corner, setting in second position as the opening quarter mile went in 22.78 seconds with the half in 45.01.
Flightline surged to the front before the turn and quickly put any remaining doubts to rest, powering to the line to remain unblemished in his first East Coast appearance.
“We’re just thrilled to have an undefeated horse, who won easy again today,” Sadler said. “Things didn’t really go well for him early in the race. He suffered from a slow start because of the one post. Then he got cut off a little bit going down the backside. With a young horse who’s not that well-seasoned, he just overcame the adversity and proved himself best.
“He overcame trouble. That’s the storyline,” Sadler added. “He had a rough trip and took up a couple times but still circled around and proved much the best.”
As a 3-year-old, the Kentucky bred won his debut by 13 1/4 lengths in April at Santa Anita and followed with a 12 3/4-length score against allowance company in September at Del Mar before going gate-to-wire to win the Grade 1 Malibu by 11 1/2 lengths in December.
Things didn’t come as easy Saturday, which Sadler said made for some anxious moments.
“When I saw him behind early, I wanted to throw up on myself. But you’ve got to watch and see what happens,” Sadler said. “I thought when he [Prat] got him going clear in the turn when he went up in that horse I thought we’d be in good shape. Flavien says distance is no issue and we want to try two turns. That’s in the plans. But we go one step at a time. He’s lightly raced. This is his first start this year.
“It’s really gratifying to get here after the hiccup we had with him,” he added. “We weren’t rushed. We had plenty of time to train him for this. To his credit he’s a very good trainer. He’s such an athlete. Winning the Met Mile is so gratifying. It’s such a historic race and a stallion-making race and he’s all of those things. He’s the whole package."
Flightline returned $2.90 on a $2 win wager and improved his career earnings to $794,800.
“He didn’t jump well but after that, I was happy where I was and he was traveling well,” said Prat, who has been aboard for all four of Flightline’s victories. “He’s just an incredible horse. Congratulations to John [Sadler] and his partners. They’ve done a great job with him.
“The way he handled himself once I was behind horses, he was comfortable and I was happy where I was,” Prat continued. “It feels great [when he hits his best stride]. It seems the sky is limitless and it’s been a real pleasure.”
Happy Saver, conditioned by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, finished 2 3/4 lengths clear of Speaker’s Corner for second. That marked the fourth consecutive runner-up finish for Happy Saver and third against Grade 1 caliber competition, starting with the Jockey Club Gold Cup in September at Saratoga Race Course, the Clark in November at Churchill Downs and the Grade 2 Alysheba in his 5-year-old bow on May 6 at Churchill.
Pletcher said the son of Super Saver may make his next start in the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney on August 6 at Saratoga Race Course.
“I thought he ran super good,” Pletcher said. “The winner is super good and I was proud of my horse for running second. We’ll let the dust settle for now and think about maybe the Whitney at Saratoga but we’ll play it by ear.”
Jockey Junior Alvarado, who rode Speaker’s Corner, said he was proud of his charge’s efforts in earning black type for the fifth consecutive race.
“I knew Flightline is always on the lead, but he’s not that quick out of the gate. I tried to keep him right there for as long as I could,” Alvarado said. “In the half-mile, he got out to the outside and after that, the race was over. He was putting pressure on my horse. I had to let my horse go from the half-mile pole. I just couldn’t keep up with him. He’s a good horse. I’m not ashamed of the race at all. We’ll still be one of the favorites next time.”
Live racing resumes Sunday at Belmont with a nine-race card featuring the $150,000 Jersey Girl for sophomore fillies going six furlongs on the main track in Race 3 at 2:03 p.m. Eastern. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
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