Flightline, whose brief two-year, six-race career was compared to Secretariat’s, received horse racing’s highest annual honor Thursday when she received the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. He was also named Best Older Dirt Male among 17 horse and human awards announced at a ceremony in Palm Beach, Florida.
Flightline finished his career with a record 8¼-length win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on November 5. He was based himself at Santa Anita and was trained by John Sadler.
Flightline was unbeaten in six races, winning by a total of 71 lengths. Flightline’s owners, part of a sport in desperate need of stars, did what is customary, they retired him to stud service the day after the Classic. The horse can earn more money in the breeding barn than in the races.
Flightline took 239 of the 242 ballots cast for Horse of the Year.
“Obviously, Flightline is a one-generation horse,” Sadler said. “And in the words of [race caller] Trevor Denman, ‘We may not see this again.’ He is a fabulous horse and I feel very blessed to have trained him.”
Flightline was the only representative of Southern California racing to win an award, a sharp decline from recent years. The Eclipse Awards honoring horse racing in 2018, which included Triple Crown winner Justify, had eight horse winners usually found in Santa Anita and Del Mar.
The category with the biggest question mark turned out not to be much of a contest, as Epicenter easily finished ahead of Taiba in the 3-Year-Old Boy award with 155 first-place votes to 66 for the Bob Baffert/Tim Yakteen apprentice. Taiba was the only 3-year-old to win three Grade 1 races.
The closest race for an Eclipse Award was for trainer, where Todd Pletcher defeated Chad Brown in first-place voting, 108-95. Brown had slightly more graded stakes earnings, wins and stakes wins than Pletcher, but Pletcher coached three Eclipse Award winners at Forte, Malathaat and Nest.
Brown had a controversial off-the-beaten-path year as he was arrested in August for allegedly strangling an ex-girlfriend. In November, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of harassment, which did not land him in jail.
The only other category in which a Santa Anita-based horse was named a finalist was the 2-year-old male, where Forte beat out the Baffert-trained Cave Rock, 243-2. Forte defeated favorite Cave Rock in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Other equine winners included: Wonder Wheel (2-Year-Old Filly), Nest (3-Year-Old Filly), Malathaat (Senior Ground Female), Elite Power (Male Sprinter), Goodnight Olive (Female Sprinter), Modern Games (Male Turf Horse ), Royal Glory (Female Turf Classic) and Hewick (Steeplechase).
Other human winners included: Irad Ortiz Jr. (Jockey), José Antonio Gómez (Apprentice Jockey) and Godolphin LLC (Owner and Breeder). Godolphin is the racing stable of Dubai’s ruling royal family.
A special Eclipse Award was presented to Jay Privman, who recently retired from the Daily Racing Form. He has been a staple of racing coverage both nationally and in the Southern California market for over four decades. He began his career as a turf writer at the LA Daily News in 1980.
The awards were voted for by members of the Daily Racing Form, National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. (The Times is a member of the NTWAB.) There were 246 voters for the awards. Not all categories were voted on by all members. There were 29 abstentions in the Steeplechase, which is held infrequently in the US, and 19 abstentions for the Apprentice Jockey.