Depending on your age, you might or might not remember a remarkable 2-year-old filly named Landaluce, a daughter of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew who took the racing world by storm with five consecutive victories in dominating fashion before dying because of a severe bacterial infection before she turned 3.
Landaluce, named the 1982 champion juvenile filly, wasn’t just very good, she was spectacular. Go back and watch some of her races on YouTube, particularly her victory in the Lassie Stakes at Hollywood Park when she trounced her competition by 21 lengths while running the 6 furlongs in 1:08 flat. She won her five races by a combined 46½ lengths.
Perhaps Landaluce is the closest horse we’ve seen in the past 40-plus years that dominated her foes in the same manner Flightline has in the first four races of his career. He’s won his starts by a combined 43½ lengths, including his rousing six-length victory in the Met Mile at Belmont Park on June 11.
Yes, there have been others who grabbed headlines early in their careers, most notably Shared Belief, American Pharoah and Justify. But American Pharoah lost his 2-year-old debut, and Shared Belief and Justify, while outstanding in their own right, didn’t dominate like Landaluce and Flightline.
Let’s first examine Shared Belief, who won his first seven starts before finishing a troubled fourth in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. He won his first four races by margins ranging from 4¼ lengths to seven lengths and was named the nation’s 2-year-old male champion of 2013.
“But as dominant as Shared Belief was in his first four races, I don’t think he came close to creating as much of a buzz as Flightline,” Santa Anita morning-line maker and racing historian Jon White said in an email when asked if he could recall the last horse that generated as much excitement early in their career like Flightline.
Then White recalled Landaluce.
“Forty years ago a 2-year-old filly burst on the scene in Southern California who I’d say actually did create an even bigger buzz than Flightline … (her dominating Lassie victory) was a performance so spectacular that it led to her being compared to the legendary Ruffian,” he said.
White also remembered the Bobby Frankel-trained Ghostzapper, the 2004 Horse of the Year.
White says Frankel told him on more than one occasion that Ghostzapper was the best horse he ever trained. That’s high praise, considering the many talented horses Frankel trained during his Hall of Fame career.
Andy Beyer, the person behind the Beyer Speed Figures in the Daily Racing Form, said recently that he believes Flightline is the best American horse since Ghostzapper, who won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic by three lengths.
“But again, I don’t think Ghostzapper created nearly the buzz that Flightline has,” White said.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: When Ghostzapper won the 2005 Met Mile by 6¼ lengths, he ran the distance in 1:33.29. Flightline navigated the one-turn mile in a very similar 1:33.59.
White says that trainer Bob Baffert, a few days after Flightline won the Malibu Stakes by 11½ lengths, told him that the John Sadler-trainee “looked like Pharoah coming down the lane” that day.
The superlatives continue to roll in.
David Aragona, the morning-line maker at Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct, tweeted after the Malibu: “Flightline possesses the sort of talent we have seen only a handful of times the past few decades. I just hope he stays healthy so we get to see him strut his stuff in even more prestigious races in 2022.”
Next up for Flightline is either the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 6 or the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sept. 3. Either spot will be the Tapit colt’s first start around two turns. That won’t be a problem, according to his jockey, Flavien Prat.
Flightline showed in the Met Mile he can overcome a troubled trip while also laying off the pace. Good horses can overcome trouble and win. Flightline did just that. It remains to be seen how history will view him when his career is finished, but so far he has greatness written all over him.
Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73