Photography: Jeff Roberson/AP
An unusual lot at Monday’s Keeneland November Breeder Sale will put a price tag on Flightline, the brilliant – and now retired – winner of Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. A 2.5% slice of the world’s best racehorse will be sold to the highest bidder and when the hammer falls, most estimates suggest Flightline will be worth at least $70 million.
The rarity value alone will drive the price up, of course, but Flightline did everything any fan – or breeder – could have hoped to see in what turned out to be their final run. The winning margin of eight and a quarter lengths was a record for the Classic, and Flightline was clear, under a sleight of hand, after sitting just behind at blistering pace for the opening mile.
Related: Undefeated Flightline Crushes Field to Win Breeders’ Cup Classic
After a nearly 50-year wait for a horse that might even be mentioned in the same breath as Secretariat Extraordinary, however, there was understandable frustration on Sunday that Flightline was ripped from stud after just six races. Perhaps inevitably too, for some fans who spilled over into revisionism over the depth of Flightline’s talent. How, they asked, can a horse be called an all-time great after half a dozen starts?
But these are different times, with different values and priorities, and no champion is likely to have a campaign like Secretariat, who packed 21 runs in a 16-month career and retired at the end of his three-year season. The big Cigar, meanwhile, raced 33 times in all, including seven grass starts before finding his true calling on the dirt and racking up a record 16-game winning streak. It can also be recalled that when he finally went to stud at the end of his six-year-old season, Cigar was found to be infertile.
As far as Flightline was concerned, however, it was always going to be the case that the better his performance in the Classic at Keeneland, the more certain it would be that he would settle into his new life as a stallion at Lanes End Farm before Christmas. There comes a time these days when a horse like Flightline is just too valuable to run, especially when strutting on dirt, a surface that – according to the 2021 Equine Injury Database report – has twice the injury rate. lethal per 1,000 begins as an artificial surface.
It remains to be seen whether Saturday’s farewell success is enough to move Flightline alongside Frankel – or perhaps even ahead of undefeated champion Sir Henry Cecil – in the rankings. And at times like this, it is also worth remembering the wise words of Chris Williams in a letter to the Racing Post several years ago. “If ever my life becomes so empty,” he wrote, “my intellect is so shrunken and my conversation so boring, that I resign myself to insisting that a good horse of an era is, or is not no, better than another from years ago, please shoot me.”
But wherever Flightline ends up in the official pantheon, and whether he succeeds or fails at stud, the best measure of his worth and legacy will be the millions of racing fans around the world who will never forget the thrill of seeing him extend and accelerate the last corner at Keeneland on Saturday.
Lingfield 1.00 A Tickatickatiming 1.30 Pyramid Place (nap) 2.00 Art Of Illusion 2.30 Jubilee Express 3.00 Ozzie Man 3.30 Stellar Magic 4.00 Shot Boii
Huntingdon 1.07 Colony Queen 1.37 Flann 2.07 Onemorefortheroad 2.37 Le Breuil 3.07 Rock The House 3.37 Vivid Pink
Hereford 1.15 Parramount 1.45 Family Pot 2.15 Dixon Cove 2.45 Fazayte 3.15 Sheldon (nb) 3.45 Miss Jeanne Moon 4.15 Cornicello
Chelmsford 4.30 American Belle 5.00 Ottoman Prince 5.30 Girl Magic 6.00 Bedazzling 6.30 Wedgewood 7.00 Level Up 7.30 Natural World 8.00 Iconic 8.30 Lucky Ava
His victory perfectly sealed a Breeders’ Cup that had already featured several outstanding finishes, and underscored how American racing is beginning to find its feet after years of steady decline. For the second year in a row, total betting ‘handling’ across all 14 Breeders’ Cup races was a record, up 3.4% from 2021 to $189,060,373, while racers’ success trained in Europe in the grass events, with six wins out of seven, can only encourage an even more concerted assault on next year’s meeting at Santa Anita.
This will mark the 40th running of the Breeders’ Cup, an event that began with just seven races at the now-defunct Hollywood Park in 1984. Now entirely Lasix-free, it began to thrive again in his late 30s, and the le return to Santa Anita, the most popular location in the rotation, promises to be another weekend to look forward to and cherish.