Del Mar Summer: Sadler’s Life In The Fast Lane With Flightline - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Del Mar Summer: Sadler’s Life In The Fast Lane With Flightline

Flightline and jockey Flavien Prat after the Met Mile at Belmont

John Sadler has had some very good horses throughout his 45-year training career, going back to the speedy roan filly, Melair, who upset Preakness winner Snow Chief in the 1986 Silver Screen Handicap at Hollywood Park. He's saddled the winners of 44 Grade 1 races and his runners have earned in excess of $139 million. Champions Stellar Wind and Accelerate have called his shedrow home.

But none has generated the excitement surrounding the undefeated Flightline.

“I've never had one like this,” Sadler said. “A lot of horses in my career I've had to train them up. This one, we just drive him in the speed lane. He's got tremendous ability.”

A 4-year-old son of Tapit who because of a freak barn accident didn't begin his racing career until April of his sophomore season, Flightline has won his four starts by a combined 43 ½ lengths – all under jockey Flavien Prat. First came a maiden win at Santa Anita in April 2021 that he won by 13 ¼ lengths. That was followed in September by a 12 ¾-length allowance score. He ran away to an 11 ½-length win in the G1 Runhappy Malibu Dec. 26, then was a six-length winner of the G1 Hill'n' Dale Met Mile on Belmont Stakes day at Belmont Park June 11. His Beyer Speed Figures for those races were 105, 114, 118, and 112, respectively.

Next up is the G1 TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar going a mile and a quarter on Sept. 3. The San Diego county seaside track's premier race – which Sadler has won three of the last four years – will be Flightline's first try around two turns and what his trainer hopes will be a stepping-stone to the G1 Breeders' Cup Classic, to be run Nov. 5 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Sadler won the 2018 Classic at Churchill Downs with Accelerate.

Flightline has been working steadily since July 9, with two half-mile drills followed by five furlongs from the gate in :59.40 on July 30 and a best-of-morning five furlongs in :59.00 on Aug. 6. He'll be on the track at 6:30 PT Saturday morning, Aug. 13,  for his next breeze.

“The next two works are the distance works,” said Sadler. “He'll go six, out a mile on Saturday and then he'll work again next Saturday. Then he'll have one easy work before the Pacific Classic.

“The training has been centered on getting him to relax to go the big distance,” he continued. “Flavien was pretty adamant after the Met Mile. I didn't ask him, but he said, 'John, distance will be this horse's friend.' So it's just about getting him to relax. The one work we did from the gate we just wanted to get him to shut off and sit behind another horse a little bit. We don't want to work him in company too much because it can get him a little excited.”

Unlike his first three wins, Flightline had to overcome some obstacles in the Met Mile.

“He didn't break, he had trouble, and they were race riding him pretty good, which is their job,” said Sadler. “To overcome that so easily in his fourth start shows you how talented he is.”

Flightline was bred in Kentucky by Jane Lyon's Summer Wind Equine, which stayed in as a partner after West Point Thoroughbreds bought the colt for $1 million at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale on the recommendation of bloodstock agent David Ingordo. The other partners are Sadler's longtime client, Hronis Racing LLC, along with Siena Farm LLC, and Woodford Racing, the latter a partnership founded by Bill Farish Jr. of Lane's End, which consigned Flightline to the Saratoga sale.

Based on his eye-catching racing performances and a pedigree whose female family traces back to the Phipps Stable's blue-hen mare, Blitey, Flightline is worth $50 million or more as a stallion prospect, sources have estimated. Sadler said no decision has yet been made about whether Flightline will race in 2023 as a 5-year-old.

“A lot of people may presume, because of his value, that it's a done deal,” said Sadler. “Everybody I've talked to in the partnership said we'll evaluate it at the end of the year.”

Sadler indicated Lane's End, which stands several of his former trainees (Accelerate, Catalina Cruiser, Gift Box, and Twirling Candy), has the inside track for when Flightline does go to stud. He said offers from other stallion farms to buy Flightline have been “through the roof.”

Trainer John Sadler

Flightline “never hid his talent,” Sadler said, recalling a phone call he received from April Mayberry, who taught the colt his early lessons in Ocala, Fla. “She called the first time she breezed him and said, 'John, I got goosebumps.'”

Horses like Flightline can put considerable pressure on trainers, but Sadler calls it “a good kind of pressure, the kind that makes you want to get up early and get to the barn each morning.”

He describes Flightline as a horse that can be tough to gallop in the morning. “He's a handful to ride, but Juan Leyva, my assistant, rides him and does a beautiful job,” said Sadler.

Winning a fourth Pacific Classic in five years would be a remarkable accomplishment for Sadler, who ranks second all-time in Del Mar stakes victories and second by overall wins at the seaside track. Bob Baffert leads both categories. Sadler has won training titles at Del Mar, Santa Anita, and Hollywood Park. His first Del Mar stakes win came with Olympic Prospect in the 1988 Bing Crosby Handicap.

Sadler's previous Pacific Classic wins came with Accelerate in 2018, Higher Power in 2019, and Tripoli in 2021. Yet when asked about his recent success in the race, he lamented about the “one that got away,” when Twirling Candy lost by a head to Acclamation in the 2011 Pacific Classic.

If Sadler is feeling extra pressure from having a horse like Flightline in his barn, he isn't showing it.

“I'm in a good stage of my career,” said Sadler, who turned 66 years old on July 30. “I'm a veteran now, been through a lot of campaigns and think I'm well equipped to handle the pressure. My stock has gotten better as I've gotten older. I've got some high-powered 2-year-olds this year, some nice horses.”

And then there's Flightline.

“It will be fun to see what happens these next two races,” said Sadler. “Then we'll see about next year.”

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