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Sadler will always be grateful that Flightline blessed his barn

Sadler will always be grateful that Flightline blessed his barn
Sadler will always be grateful that Flightline blessed his barn

John Sadler may have completed one of his racing ambitions when saddling Missed The Cut at Royal Ascot, but it is Flightline that has given the great American handler memories of a lifetime.

Unraced at two, Flightline first fired up his engines in the spring of 2021 and in the next 18 months took his connections on a whirlwind journey to stardom.

Such was the near-perfection of his racing career, only twice in his six starts did he fail to register a victory of 10 lengths or more.

Flightline’s performances had racing fans and form analysts across the globe marvelling in unison as he reached figures many could only dream of.

Flightline at Keeneland
Flightline at Keeneland (Neil Morrice/PA)

He would be named the 2022 Longines World’s Best Racehorse upon his retirement and handed a rating of 140, which matched Frankel’s benchmark set in 2012. The exceptional son of Tapit also eclipsed the previous best dirt rating of 135, which was set by Cigar in 1996.

Sadler was never in any doubt that Flightline would reach such lofty heights, and although his absence is still felt in California, with the 67-year-old seeking the next star to fill the void, he has nothing but fond memories of the greatest to ever step foot in his stable.

“Absolutely we miss him and he was probably the best horse in America for the last 20 or 30 years,” he said.

“We were so lucky to train that great a horse and I talked to one of the guys at Timeform when we came over here to receive the Longines award and he said they didn’t know how to rate this horse and that they had never seen numbers like he produced, it really was a great experience.

John Sadler and connections of Flightline at the Longines awards in early 2023
John Sadler and connections of Flightline at the Longines awards in early 2023 (Molly Hunter/PA)

“The first time we worked him (we knew). He was a horse who never hid his talent, he wasn’t like a horse who just got better and better and better as we raced him. The first time we breezed him I said ‘this horse has wings’, he was just incredibly talented. Brilliance is the word we associate with him.

“We never tried to break track records with him, I have no doubt he could have, he could have done just about everything.”

Flightline’s career ended with a scintillating, career-defining triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, where the strapping colt put his unbeaten record on the line against a strong cast of rivals.

Having been up with the pace throughout, a motionless Flavian Prat – who had been in the saddle for all of Flightline’s victories – urged his mount to seal the deal in style entering the straight, as he dazzled his adoring public in Kentucky with an eight-and-a-quarter length success.

He was fully deserving of his reputation as one of the best racehorses to ever grace the dirt, earning comparisons with the legendary Secretariat in the aftermath.

Remembering both that memorable day in Lexington and the anticipation in the build-up to Flightline’s heroic swansong, Sadler told the PA news agency: “It was really special and there was quite a lot of stress at the time, because he was unbeaten and such a heavy favourite.

“For him, it was just a case of keeping him good and we never really worried about the horses he was running against, we just needed him right as rain.”

Having dazzled handicappers with his on-track talents, some were keen to play fantasy racing and speculate just what may happen if Flightline was given the opportunity to continue his racing career and one day compete on turf.

The leading turf performer of Flightline’s champion year was William Haggas’ Baaeed, who carried all before him in Europe as a four-year-old in 2022.

Baaeed was one of the giants of the turf Flightline could have taken on
Baaeed was one of the giants of the turf Flightline could have taken on (Mike Egerton/PA)

And Sadler has admitted to pondering, especially while getting a chance to scope out the lay of the land in the UK while in town for Royal Ascot, just what would have happened if his all-conquering superstar had been given the opportunity.

“I was over here (in Lambourn) and looking at these grass gallops and it had me thinking he would probably be great on turf too,” said Sadler.

“It would be fun to see if some of his offspring surface over in the UK next year.

“It was the big ‘what if’, and the horse he would have run against was the Haggas horse, Baaeed, but that’s now just a big ‘what if’.”

As it was, Flightline’s potential at stud was just too much to convince connections to prolong his career any longer than its Breeders’ Cup crescendo, with his fame and fortune exemplified by a 2.5 per cent fractional interest being sold for $4.6million at auction only two days later.

Now settled into stallion duties and standing for $150,000 at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky, excitement is building towards the day his first crop eventually hits the racecourse.

Sadler, of course, can only dream of unearthing a Flightline replica, but does have high hopes for a member of the family who made a winning introduction at Santa Anita last month.

He added: “Flightline has gone off to stud now and people are raving about his foals, which is exciting, and some of his first weanlings will sell in July in Japan. Everybody who has foals by him is excited.

“His younger brother Eagles Flight won a few weeks ago, he’s by Curlin and looks a good prospect,

“He was great and every trainer who has had a good horse quickly has to look for the next crop and I have some great two-year-olds this year and you keep going.”

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