01/06/2017 4:56PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Flintshire

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Trainer Chad Brown’s stable already was loaded with high-class turf horses when Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms told Brown early in 2016 that it was sending him another star. Flintshire’s world travels twice had brought him to the United States for single races. Now, he would be spending the entire 2016 season with Brown.

The moment he stepped off the plane after shipping from trainer Andre Fabre’s base in France, Flintshire, a Juddmonte homebred by Dansili and out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Dance Routine, became the best grass horse in North America. He wasted little time proving it, and even before lining up for his first start of the season, Flintshire had made an impression on Brown.

“He has an indescribable amount of class about him,” Brown said. “It’s the little things. He’s just so intelligent, and you can pick that up very early on. He walks around the shed row like he’s the man. And he is the man.”

This was after Flintshire’s first start of 2016, the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes. Flintshire faced a high-quality field going 1 1/4 miles while making his first start in six months. He was an odds-on favorite and ran like one, finishing with a flourish to win by nearly two lengths. Javier Castellano piloted Flintshire to victory and was asked after the race to name the best grass horse he’d ridden during a surefire Hall of Fame career. Castellano paused briefly. “This one,” he said.

The Manhattan, it turns out, would be just about as well as Flintshire ran during a 6-year-old campaign that made him the front-runner for an Eclipse Award as 2016’s champion older male turf horse. Flintshire had an odd Saratoga meet. Brown decided to use the Grade 2 Bowling Green on July 30 as a bridge to the Grade 1 Longines Sword Dancer and a fall campaign, but facing just three rivals, Flintshire had a target on his back for the entire trip, though rival riders’ best efforts to keep Flintshire boxed in and pinned down went for naught in the end.

Brown, wanting a more truly run race in the Sword Dancer, used a pacemaker, Inordinate, who, while coming off the rail to make room for Flintshire near the top of the homestretch, made contact with a rival. The tactics caused a minor uproar, but Flintshire had won his second straight Sword Dancer in impressive fashion.

One reason Fabre and Juddmonte had turned Flintshire into an international campaigner was to seek out firm ground and avoid the soft going prevalent in French racing. But soft ground found Flintshire in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in October. It was black and white, really: Ectot, another French import, skipped over a surprisingly boggy Belmont course, setting a slow pace while leading from start to finish. Flintshire struggled from the beginning of the race, the dead, tricky going blunting his brilliance. He checked in a well-beaten second.

The Santa Anita course came up plenty firm for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, but here Flintshire fell victim to a sharp horse, Highland Reel, and crafty tactics. Highland Reel controlled the early pace in the Turf, and after setting an even tempo for six furlongs, jockey Seamie Heffernan went for an early move. Starting at the halfway point of the Turf, Highland Reel ran a half-mile in 46.68 seconds, considerably faster than his opening half, and by the time Flintshire began to counter, Highland Reel’s advantage was too great.

Flintshire got his last quarter-mile of the Turf in just more than 22 seconds, about as fast as a horse can finish, but still fell 1 3/4 lengths short of victory while beating Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Found by more than two lengths for second.

That Flintshire went out with a pair of second-place finishes did little to significantly dent his reputation as one of the best turf horses in the world for the better part of three years. In fact, it was in keeping with Flintshire’s longer-term reputation as a horse who often found one big-race rival slightly better than he. In the end, Flintshire finished second 12 times, with eight wins on his résumé. He also earned just short of $10 million during a memorable career – and was the best grass horse based in North America during 2016.