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2022 Rewind: Flightline, Rich Strike Provided Positivity to Sport of Kings

Top Human Touches Came from Ortiz Jr., Pletcher

Horse racing doesn’t attract nearly the interest it used to, but a pair of colts did their best in 2022 to prove that the Sport of Kings is still capable of ruling. Rich Strike, the longest shot in the field, shocked the world by winning the Kentucky Derby, and Flightline capped a 6-for-6 career with a pair of dominating performances that stamped him as one of the top horses in the last 50 years. The human highlight reel in 2022 was led by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and trainer Todd Pletcher, who are favored to win Eclipse Awards as the top performers in their crafts.

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Flightline, Rich Strike Provided Positivity to Sport of Kings
Flightline, Rich Strike Provided Positivity to Sport of Kings

Flightline Was a Stud Before Entering the Breeding Shed

Flightline put a bow on an exciting Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland — and his career — with an 8¼-length triumph in the Classic at 2-5 in the horse racing odds. Flightline, trained by John Sadler, was retired to stud on Nov. 6 – one day after his swan song left little doubt about his greatness. “Unbelievable,” John Sadler told the media about his experience in training the son of Tapit. “Just a generational-type horse, I’ve said that right along. Just a rare, rare shooting-star kind of horse.” Flightline is expected to be a unanimous choice for Horse of the Year.

Flightline’s most stunning performance came in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sept. 2, when he won by an astonishing 19¼ lengths. His combined career margin of victory was 71 lengths. Flightline also ran triple-digit Beyer speed figures in all six races, ranging from six furlongs to 1¼ miles. His 126 in the Pacific Classic was the second-highest Beyer since the ratings went public in 1991. Ghostzapper ran a 128 in 2004. Flightline’s final four races were Grade Is, including the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita at seven furlongs and the Metropolitan Mile Handicap at Belmont.

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Rich Strike Shocked the World on First Saturday in May

Rich Strike was a late entrant to the Kentucky Derby – before the running and during the race. He was originally on the also-eligible list, but when D. Wayne Lukas scratched Ethereal Road the day before, Rich Strike joined the party from post 21. Sonny Leon, an unheralded jockey who was carving out a living at modest racetracks, kept Rich Strike well behind with a fast pace ahead. Leon weaved Rich Strike between tired horses throughout the stretch and got up to stun favorite Epicenter and Zandon in the shadow of the wire. Rich Strike paid $163.60 for $2 when betting online or at the racebook, making him the longest shot to win the Derby in 109 years.

Eric Reed has been training horses — mostly in obscurity — for nearly 40 years before leaping into the spotlight. “I fell down when they hit the wire,” Reed said. “This is why everybody does this.” Rich Strike didn’t win another race in 2022. He skipped the Preakness before finishing fourth in the Belmont. He was also off the board in the Travers at Saratoga, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Clark at Churchill Downs, but finished second in the Lukas at Churchill. Rich Strike is expected to compete in 2023, but he’s already left his mark in horse racing history.

Jockeys, Trainers All Looked up to Ortiz Jr., Pletcher

Ortiz is expected to win his fourth Eclipse Award as an outstanding jockey after setting the single-season record for stakes victories. Ortiz won his 77th, aboard Dr. B, in the Go For Wand Stakes at Aqueduct on Dec. 3. He also won Eclipses in 2018, 2019, and 2020. “This is great. Amazing feeling,” Ortiz told the media. “It’s amazing just to be a part of the story. (Garrett) Gomez did it in 2007 and he was a great rider, one of the best in the game. I’m so happy just to be a part of this. I love this sport. Thanks to everyone who has supported me.”

Pletcher trained three horses this year that will likely win Eclipse Awards. Malathaat is expected to be the older dirt female champion after winning the BC Distaff. Forte is the likely 2-year-old winner, and early favorite for the 2023 Kentucky Derby, with his victory in the BC Juvenile. Nest is the presumed 3-year-old filly champion. But wait, there’s more for the seven-time Eclipse winner who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021. Mo Donegal won the Belmont and Life is Good is the likely runner-up to Flightline for Horse of the Year.

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