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Handicapping - Pedigree - History - Dosage

Flightline vs. Epicenter

Anyone who held a love in their heart for horse racing was glued to the TV set on Feb 7, 2015 for the rematch between California Chrome and Shared Belief in the San Antonio Stakes. The lead-up to the race produced such a stir within the racing community, as fans bickered between the Chrome camp and the Shared Belief camp. Both horses went off at even money, as fans evenly backed their favorite from here to way overseas. It was the race of the year and dubbed "The Clash of the Titans."

As everyone remembers, California Chrome beat Shared Belief three months prior in the Breeders Cup Classic, coming in second below Bayern while Shared Belief had to settle for fourth. Even Toast of New York found himself ahead of Shared Belief that day. It was a race that is still being debated to this day, with Shared Belief crippled at the starting gate by Baffert's ugly tactics that, as usual, he gets away with. The best on the field was taken out at the start but he persevered to the bitter end. To have Shared Belief face Chrome in the San Antonio offered vindication for his "mediocre 4th" and this meant everything in the world to his loyal fans.

Those who have been my "internet" horse racing friends know that, for me, the sun rose and set with Shared Belief. I love that horse the same today as I did back then and for two days before that San Antonio race, I could not sleep. It was all I thought about, to the extent where I almost believed I could manifest him across that finish line. I wanted that horse to win so badly that I can still sense that feeling I had to this very day. To say that it was bordering on obsession is an understatement. But deep down I knew that Shared Belief was a Champion Horse, beyond special, and that he had what it took to win that day. You can not "will" a horse to win, there must be something there that gives you that calm before the storm. Past Performances. Unimpeded Runs. Will and Determination. Speed and Stamina. Conducive Bias. Just Evidence.

Shared Belief was all class when he crossed that finish line first.

The match-up between Flightline and Epicenter is not quite on the same level as Chrome vs. Shared Belief either for me or even on the past performance sheets. Flightline holds everything he could possibly need to easily win this race, seemingly far above Epicenter. Ranking, Timeform, Beyer and Thorograph figures, even the age. Everything points directly to Flightline for the Classic. Well deserved and unmatched in speed, Flightline is the "Titan" in this year's Classic.

With uncontrollable thoughts beginning to stir in my mind, that same feeling is starting to rear its head. It's not quite as strong as it was back in 2015 before the San Antonio but we're still a couple weeks away and I'm sure it will rise as each day passes. Honestly, I want Epicenter to win this race so badly, not just because of the odds, (although I'll happily take them!) but because way deep down in my gut, I know that this 3 year old is a champion horse. Unlucky though he may be, there is something within his inheritance that far exceeds anything that is running today. You can not manifest a horse to win or just wish him to win, there has to be something. Yes, guilty of wanting the underdog to beat Goliath and most likely that is how it will end up, but is it such a stretch to even consider it?

This is simply about looking to see if there would be any reason to spend the additional money in locking both of these horses together at the top of the super ticket in hopes of an upset. Would it even be worth it to take a shot at the odds? Should we bypass the obvious single on top with this even-money monster Flightline and double the cost of the bet by taking that extra shot? Is it even worth the consideration?

Flightline was awarded a 126 beyer speed figure for his astounding performance in the Pacific Classic. That figure is the second fastest ever, falling slightly below the 128 given to Ghostzapper in the Philip H. Iselin Handicap in 2004. That correlation is not favorable to Epicenter in the least. Ghostzapper went on after that stellar performance to win the Woodward Stakes and then took the trophy in the Breeders Cup Classic. To put that into perspective, Epicenter "only" received a speed beyer figure of 112 for the Travers. On paper so far, this isn't looking good.

At the moment Flightline (139) is ranked #1 in the Longine's World's Best Race Horse, sitting just above Baaeed (135), the superstar Turf Runner who has posted 10 wins in a row. Epicenter (125) sits at #4, even with Life Is Good also at #4. Still not looking good.

Flightline was given a negative 8-1/2 from Thoro-graph, the fastest number it has ever assigned to a horse. It is said that number was actually low and the decision was to err on the side of caution. Looking even worse for Epicenter. Appears Flightline is truly a lock and it may be wise to simply keep that single with the even money odds and save your money... but...but...hold on...

Isn't there just a slight glimmer of hope, anywhere? Keep looking, keep searching...Maybe...Just maybe...

Let's look at the Travers and the Pacific Classic closely and we'll put aside assigned figures for a moment. We'll look at the races from a standpoint of reality and what actually transpired. Again, Flightline is absolutely the horse to beat, there is no question about that, but this exercise is about joining them at the hip in the top two spots for the odds. The "just in case" scenario - do we spend the money for it?

The Pacific Classic is run at Delmar. On that day, Sept. 3rd, there were six races run on dirt, five of which were for the males (filly races do not coincide). All five of those dirt races were in complete alignment with the crazy speed bias and won by either those stalking the lead in 2nd position for a very short time up front or gate to wire. There was a major lead tier bias that day as every single colt won in that very same style. Flightline did capitalize off of the highly souped up DelMar speed bias in the exact same manner as each of the earlier races held. With that strong speed bias in tow, Flightline went straight to the front and never looked back. Those in the back didn't have a prayer of moving on that track. The further Flightline distanced himself from the 3/4 pole and on, the harder it became for those in the rear to gain. They were separating themselves, but in reality, traveling in two different directions.

The Travers Stakes is run at Saratoga. On that day, there were 8 dirt races run by the males. Three of them went gate to wire. Two of them stalked in 2nd or 3rd position. Two of them came from the very back. And Epicenter sat in midpack (4th). There was NO STRONG BIAS at Saratoga that day. There was no favoritism or capitalizing off of any bias for Epicenter. He ran his race without a helping hand from the track. Every opponent that he faced in the Travers also held a favorable fair bias with which to run their race. Not one got swallowed up by the bias. The same cannot be said of the Pacific Classic.

Now, let's look at the real figures:

1. Keep in mind, Epicenter was NOT dictating the pace, he was the recipient of those times up until he took over at the 8f mark. Flightline controlled the clock just around the 1/4 pole. Flightline's final time came on a very speedy bias and both of those horses were ridden out in the end. The Keeneland race track will NOT play like DelMar. It may end up fast but nowhere near the bias of DelMar. Who had the easy race with a massive speed bias and with killer ending visuals? Who ran a fair race allowing the seconds to tick off for 8f with basically the same final time? Notice the jump in speed when Epicenter took over after the third call. His pace skyrocketed, making up almost 3 seconds (approx 15+ lengths) and after that he coasted home. That is exactly what he will do in the Classic behind the leaders, but this time, he continues to gain as opposed to gearing down. Hopefully, it's enough.

2. Going by Jerry Brown's assessment on Flightline (the owner of Thoro-graph) - running that fast in one race would take its toll on the follow-up race and based on the horse's issues that allowed him to only make a couple starts this year, that scenario is not out of the realm. "It's just that horses who run that fast generally don't survive." - (Taken from TDN)

I usually never take another's word but I wanted to pass Jerry Brown's assessment off to you. Also, I prefer to bypass visuals and go with facts. This is similar to when Rich Strike made a run for that Derby wire and everybody lost their mind thinking it was the greatest thing they ever saw. When in reality, the facts of the race showed a different story. He was actually flying by retreating horses. The visuals of Flightline's 19 length demolition were a sight to be seen at the time but when you look at the two 10f races side by side, one on a speed bias and one on a fair bias, the final time truly tells the tale. Once Flightline separated himself by about 8 or 9 lengths, every competitor on that field was racing from the rear. The bias wouldn't allow them to move, therefore they retreated and Flightline forged ahead.

As far as projecting those performances to Keeneland, I will tell you now, Flightline moves to a harder test and Epicenter's test gets a bit easier. The Keeneland bias will be fast, but it isn't hitting "DelMar fast". The track will feel like heaven to Epicenter after working at Saratoga, and for Flightline, it goes opposite.

At the moment, Epicenter has been settling in and working directly on the Keeneland track. Prior to that, he was being hard trained on that tough Saratoga bias prior to the Travers. Barned at Keeneland is exactly where the horse should be, in training for that track, walking on that track, schooling in that paddock, living and breathing it all in. And where is Flightline? He's working out on the slick Santa Anita bias still. Again, Keeneland will be fast but not "Santa Anita fast." They are working his speed and relying on Tapit for the stamina. I see nothing wrong with that at all, but he will have different footing and he won't have his norm.

At 4 years old, Flightline's body of work in preparation for the Mega Breeder's Classic is highly lacking against the amount of time that Epicenter has actually spent competing at just three years old. That must account for something when it comes to the big races. Flightline has never seen 19 other competitors on a single field like Epicenter has. It would appear that the 3 year old is the novice but in reality, it is the other way around. As a matter of fact, Flightline has only looked in the eye of three horses in his minimal 5 race career before grabbing that lead and taking off. This is not to say that he won't do that again in the Classic, he probably will sit second and then pounce before the half mile mark but if one slight mishap occurs out of that gate, Flightline could find himself trapped. He has zero experience in anything other than competing against a lead horse until he decides to move. It could turn into a catastrophe if he misses that stalking spot. Afterall, he will have a target on his back and with Baffert in there with 2 colts, I wouldn't put it past that man to sacrifice one to see to it that Flightline has the hardest run he has ever seen. Hell, he did it to Shared Belief, he could do it again. The arrow is pointed directly at Flightline, not Epicenter.

As far as breeding goes, both Flightline and Epicenter would be the closest in comparison in the gate as far as their scales. They are flipped in terms of influence, but the scales come together fairly close. Neither one is pace dependent, and both have substantial amounts of inbred speed and stamina. Both have taken their inheritance way passed their heights and are capitalizing from both sides.

Flightline has a 2.71 index with Sire Tapit. This is 101% stamina. Killer Stamina.

Epicenter is sporting "turf-style" chefs numbers: DP = 0-0-9-1-2 (12) DI = 0.60 CD = -0.42.

This is EPIC stamina. His freakin CD is in the negative for God's sake!

Flightline has a 1.26 Mare index. Crazy speed that goes beyond what the normal 2.71 Tapit boy would display at 10f.

Epicenter has a very low .74 mare index, more stamina lumped into his chefs, but he is grabbing a nice chunk of Intermediate speed from those abundant mares and he has definitely latched on to the speed power of his sire Not This Time.

Contradictory to both of their true inheritance if taken at face value, neither one should realistically be displaying the type of speed that they have given out so far. Tapit usually steals some of it at 10f and Epicenter should be running on the turf with those configurations - but they are superstars and they both dance to their own beat.

It would take a minor miracle for Epicenter to pull this one off but I do believe in miracles and I do believe that the risk is well worth the reward. I don't see the harm in attaching Epicenter with Flightline for the top two spots just in case things get crazy on that field. He has true Champion qualities, he's built like a steam engine and if he misses, well, we still have the "Titan" on top at even money and will hope for the proper configuration in the superfecta and the High Five.


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