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Frankel v Flightline: Is their equality merited?



January rattles on, the dust falling and, this time, settling on the memories of 2022: a year of renewed flat racing triumphs. Indeed, blowing that dust from its cover, there's even a new name to add to our history book. And it's not Baaeed, whose final defeat - after a ten time unbeaten run, and a summer spent whipping up fever - left him fumbling on a rating of 135. No, the new kid is Flightline, an American rock star who - for the fleeting second we saw him - clocked 140 in the World Horse Rankings, unveiled on Tuesday night at London's Longines World Racing Awards. The rating puts Flightline ahead of Sea The Stars. Ahead of Shergar. Ahead of Dancing Brave. And, most worryingly of all, on a par with Frankel, the fourteen-time unbeaten horse of a lifetime.


No longer can Tom Queally claim to have ridden the world's best racehorse. Discarded now his near nine-year, seemingly unreachable, time at the top. The solo run eclipsed, Flavien Pratt shares his honour. And for Pratt, victory must be both sweet and unexpected. Except, he doesn't reign supreme. Because, for all Flightline's cool-headed, modest magnificence, he can, surely, claim to be but a horse of the dirt. Was Flightline ever likely to triumph at Goodwood or Newmarket, Ascot or York? Was Frankel, though, ever likely to stun on the sand of Santa Anita, Del Mar, Belmont or Keeneland? Here are horses of two very different surfaces and, more pertinently, two very different continents. It's the all-too-familiar tale of American pizazz pitted up against calm English dominance, albeit with egos reversed (Frankel had one the scale of a country twice our size).



For their remaining years, Frankel and Flightline may be united only in stud fees. Frankel sits at £275,000 a pop this year, and I need not remind you that a 2.5 per cent share in Flightline - albeit taken the week of his Breeders Cup curtain closer - fetched $4.6m at the Keeneland November Sale. This is not to throw out mighty moments on the racecourse. It's simply a reminder that history is fickle. Of Golden Horn, Frankel and Sea The Stars, mere single digit years are all that's needed for an eternal status to cement. For Flightline, however, and certainly for Baaeed, similar long-term memory is by no means guaranteed.


Speaking on Friday, when asked about Flightline's score, Baaeed's trainer admitted as much. "He certainly deserves [his rating]," said a humble Haggas, "and I don’t know how he didn’t get more. It’s hard to rate a horse who’s so dominant like that. He’s a tougher horse to rate than Baaeed, for example." Flightline's trainer, too, John Sadler, made a notable point of calling his joybringer the best he's seen in America for a while. "The comparison with other horses is a joy killer," he went on. Asked his thoughts, John Gosden summed it up with a similar shrug: "You’ve got a great dirt horse and a great turf horse [...]. Flightline had an incredibly fluent stride, and if you watch him, it never falters. Even in the final two furlongs it’s the same fluent action. That’s what he shares with Frankel: that incredible stride and the ability to make it look easy."

 

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