In the crazy business model of thoroughbred racing, a horse is more valuable not racing then they are on the track. So, with that in mind, the sport’s latest superstar, Flightline, was retired on Sunday, one day after a dominating record-setting win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course.
It was expected that Flightline would never race again, but the speed with which it was announced by Lane’s End Farm was almost as fast as the undefeated colt ran in his six races.
On Saturday, Kosta Hronis, the frontman for the ownership group, made it sound as if the discussion was yet to be had about the colt’s future. But the Sunday morning announcement by the breeding farm indicated that the discussion was well under way.
“We’ll all get together and discuss it at a later time and decide,” Hronis said at the postrace news conference. “We’ll always do what’s best by the horse, I can promise you that. We’ll … just decide together how we want to do this.”
Terms of the syndication deal were not announced and it’s expected that the principal owners will still have a large stake in the horse. Some had speculated that the horse’s worth could approach $100 million.
The breeding season starts sometime in February. A horse’s gestation period is about a year, and you want your horse born as close to the beginning of the year as possible but never in the previous year. Every horse has a racing birthday of Jan. 1. A horse born in December would be considered age 1 at the start of the year, even if they were only one month old.
Trainer John Sadler may have tipped the ownership’s hand early Sunday morning when he spoke to the Breeders’ Cup notes team.
“He is good this morning and he’ll spend a few days here and have a showing at Lane’s End,” Sadler said.
No stud fee was announced. A horse can have up to about 150 matings a year, although that number fluctuates.
Flightline is not the only horse to retire to stallion duty after so few races. Justify, the second Triple Crown winner for trainer Bob Baffert, also retired after six races.
The economics of the game shade against valuable older horses from running when they have stud value. Especially because all the money is in 3-year-olds. Flightline will turn 5 next year.
“The biggest thing that people don’t understand is the insurance you must buy,” Elliott Walden, of WinStar Farm, told The Times last year. “If you take a horse that’s worth $20 million, your insurance to keep him in training is 4% for mortality. That’s a lot of money to put out and then have to earn back at a rate of 60% of the purse, and that doesn’t even count what you pay jockeys and trainers.
“It’s just hard economically to keep those horses in training. Our purse structure is loaded to 3-year-olds [and the Triple Crown.]”
Walden’s WinStar Farms was the principal owner of Justify.
If you conservatively estimate Flightline’s value at $60 million, it would cost you $2.4 million in insurance payments with few races that could collectively pay out that amount of money in purses.
Saturday’s 8¼-length win by Flightline in the Classic was the largest of any horse in the 39-year history of the event. He went off at 2-5 odds, which was also a record.
Flightline was late to the racing game because of an injury he had as a 2-year-old when he suffered a deep cut to his hindquarters when he was startled at his barn. It cost him his 3-year-old Triple Crown season. His third time to the track, after a dominating maiden and allowance wins, was Dec. 26 when he won the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita.
Sadler, who has had more than 16,000 starts, declared Flightline was the best horse he ever trained. He also trained Accelerate, who won the Classic for Hronis Racing in 2018.
Flightline went on to win the Met Mile at Belmont despite a very troubled trip and followed that up with a win in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar by 19¼ lengths. It was called by some the greatest performance by a horse since Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths in 1973.
Flightline’s six race total is winning by 71 lengths. He is retiring with $4.255 million in earnings.
Also retiring from racing after Saturday’s Classic was Travers winner Epicenter. He suffered lateral condylar fracture of his right front leg during the race. He underwent surgery on Sunday and the outcome was said to be “excellent” for him to go on and be a sire.
Times staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to his report.