Flightline, whose brief two-year, six-race career drew comparisons to Secretariat, was given horse racing’s highest annual honor on Thursday when he was given the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. He also was named top Older Dirt Male among the 17 horse and human awards announced at a ceremony in Palm Beach, Fla.
Flightline finished his career with a record-breaking 8¼-length win at the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Nov. 5. He was based at Santa Anita and trained by John Sadler.
Flightline was undefeated in six races, winning by a total of 71 lengths. The owners of Flightline, part of a sport that is in desperate needs of stars, did what is usually done, retired him to stallion duty the day after the Classic. The horse can make more money in the breeding shed than racing.
Flightline took 239 of the 242 ballots cast for Horse of the Year.
“Obviously, Flightline is a horse of a generation,” said Sadler. “And in the words of [race caller] Trevor Denman, ‘We may not see this again.’ He’s a fabulous horse and I feel so blessed to have trained him.”
Flightline was the only representative of Southern California racing to win an award, a steep decline from recent years. The Eclipse Awards that honored horses racing in 2018, which included Triple Crown winner Justify, had eight winners from horses usually based at Santa Anita and Del Mar.
The category with the biggest question mark proved to be not much of a contest as Epicenter easily finished ahead of Taiba for the 3-Year-Old Male award with 155 first-place votes to 66 for the Bob Baffert/Tim Yakteen trainee. 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 beat Chad Brown in first-place ballots, 108-95. Brown had slightly more earnings, wins and graded stakes victories than Pletcher but Pletcher trained three Eclipse Award winners in Forte, Malathaat and Nest.
Brown had a controversial off-track year as he was arrested in August for allegedly choking a former girlfriend. In November, he plead guilty to a lesser charge of harassment, which carried no jail time.
The only other category in which a Santa Anita-based horse was named a finalist was 2-Year-Old Male where Forte beat the Baffert-trained Cave Rock, 243-2. Forte beat the favored Cave Rock in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Other equine winners were: Wonder Wheel (2-Year-Old Filly), Nest (3-Year-Old Filly), Malathaat (Older Dirt 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 were: Irad Ortiz Jr. (Jockey), Jose Antonio Gomez (Apprentice Jockey) and Godolphin LLC (Owner and Breeder). Godolphin is the racing stable of the ruling royal family of Dubai.
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 more than four decades. He started his turf writing career at the L.A. Daily News in 1980.
The awards were voted on by the members of the Daily Racing Form, National Thoroughbred Racing Assn., and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. (The Times is a member of the NTWAB.) There were 246 voters for the awards. Not every category was voted on by all members. There were 29 abstentions in the Steeplechase, which is infrequently run in the U.S., and 19 abstentions for Apprentice Jockey.