The only horse racing fans who can claim that they saw superstar Flightline in Saratoga Springs are those who were at the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion on East Avenue for the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Sales on Nov. 5 of 2019.
Or, maybe you asked the consignor to pull him out of the stall for a visual inspection in the week leading up to the sale, but chances are you were going to fall short at the auction, as West Point Thoroughbreds bought the bay son of Tapit for a cool $1 million.
Otherwise, the closest the undefeated California-based 3-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic has stepped to Saratoga was when he easily won the Grade I Met Mile by six lengths at Belmont Park in Nassau County on June 11.
But Flightline is just one horse — albeit one who is already being trumpeted as a potential all-time great — and the 14 Breeders’ Cup races at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky on Friday and Saturday will include a typically all-star cast of characters from this summer’s Saratoga Race Course meet.
In fact, the two most anticipated races of the weekend, the Classic and $2 million Distaff on Saturday, best represent Saratoga’s standing as one of the most important meets annually in racing.
Of the eight horses in the Classic field, only Flightline, who won the Pacific Classic by over 19 lengths at Del Mar during closing weekend of the Saratoga meet, and Taiba, who was ineligible to race at Saratoga because of trainer Bob Baffert’s suspension in New York, did not run in the two biggest races at the Spa, the Travers and Whitney.
The Distaff, meanwhile, offers a juicy matchup between the two best older dirt route females in North America, Malathaat and Clairiere, and neither of them is even the favorite.
That distinction goes to the 3-year-old Nest, Malathaat’s Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate who can stake a claim as the biggest star of the Saratoga meet, based on her dominating wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama.
Of the 177 horses from seven countries on four continents entered in the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, 75 ran at Saratoga, winning 47 races, including most of the big ones, many of which were part of the “Win and You’re In” BC qualifying series.
Of those 75, four won two at Saratoga, including Nest.
Epicenter, the leader of the 3-year-old male division, will run against older horses for the first time while taking on Flightline, Life Is Good and five others in the Classic, coming off convincing wins in the Jim Dandy and Travers.
The other dual Spa winners are the Chad Brown-trained Goodnight Olive, who is the Filly & Mare Sprint 3-1 favorite off wins in an allowance and the Grade I Ballerina, and Leave No Trace, who won her career debut and the Grade I Spinaway on closing weekend for long-time New York-based trained Phil Serpe.
Like the Classic, six of eight in the Distaff ran at Saratoga, including Nest, Malathaat, Clairiere, Search Results, Secret Oath and Society.
Malathaat was second to Clairiere in the Grade II Shuvee early in the meet, then came back to win the Grade I Personal Ensign on Travers Day, while Clairiere finish fifth with a bloody foot that she banged on the starting gate when it opened.
Secret Oath was the leader of the 3-year-old filly division in the spring after having won the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, but was no match for Nest in the CCA Oaks and Alabama.
Besides Epicenter, the six in the BC Classic field who got there via Saratoga include Whitney winner Life Is Good, regarded as the top contender to upset Flightline; Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Olympiad, who was fourth in the Whitney; Happy Saver and Hot Rod Charlie, who were second and third, respectively, in the Whitney; and Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, who was fourth in the Travers.
One horse who was impressive at Saratoga and was supposed to make a big splash at the Breeders’ Cup, but has been withdrawn, is the Chad Brown-trained Jack Christopher, who won the Grade I Allen Jerkens on Travers Day.
He was cross-entered, with high expectations, in the BC Sprint and BC Dirt Mile, but Brown announced on Monday that his colt would miss the Breeders’ Cup for the second year in a row.
Jack Christopher was a vet scratch at the last minute from the the BC Juvenile last year, for which he was the morning-line favorite, and a subsequent exam revealed a knee injury.
This time, Brown pulled him from consideration a few hours before the races were to be drawn on Monday in anticipation of regulatory vets scratching Jack Christopher, anyway, “primarily based on the way he moves” during jogging demonstrations of his gait, Brown told the Daily Racing Form’s David Grening.
On-site vets at the Breeders’ Cup have discretion to scratch a horse under those circumstances.
The other prominent dropout from the 2022 Breeders’ Cup was also a Saratoga star, at least in 2021, when Letruska won the Personal Ensign on her way to the Eclipse Award for older dirt female.
This summer, she was third behind Malathaat and Search Results in the Personal Ensign. Letruska was pre-entered in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint, but she’ll get a training break and may be retired.
Of the 75 BC horses who competed at Saratoga, 30 are 2-year-olds, a reflection of how the Spa meet serves as a pivot point on the calendar for the best juveniles of any crop.
Ten of the horses in the Juvenile Fillies raced at Saratoga, including Adirondack winner Naughty Gal and Spinaway winner Leave No Trace.
Pletcher’s favorite in the BC Juvenile, Forte, won the Grade I Hopeful on closing day of the Saratoga meet.