The Horse of the Century (So Far)
By Patrick F. Cannon
I’d be surprised if everyone reading this today will have heard about the horse that won this year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic on November 5. His name is Flightline and I believe he’s the best thoroughbred race horse since Secretariat in 1973.
Secretariat of course won the Triple Crown and even made the cover of Time Magazine. Minor injuries and accidents kept Flightline from starting his career until April 24, 2021 of his three-year-old year. He didn’t win his first stakes race until December 26. That was the Malibu Stakes, a Grade 1 race (the highest rating for stakes races). He ran only three more times, all Grade 1 events. In his race before the Breeder’s Cup, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in California, he won by 19-1/4 lengths. His margin of victory in the Breeder’s Cup was 8-1/2 lengths, the longest winning margin in the race’s 38-year history, and against what was widely believed to be one of the strongest fields ever assembled.
Horse racing was once the most popular spectator sport in the United States. The reason? In most states, it was the only form of legalized gambling. No more. Numerous gambling options are as near as your phone. You don’t have to go anywhere, least of all to a race track. The irony is that online betting has increased thoroughbred purses substantially, but few people actually attend in person. So, poor Flightline had two strikes against him – no Triple Crown participation and little interest in racing among the general public.
I was unable to go to the Breeder’s Cup. I was in New Orleans with my daughter Beth and son-in-law Boyd. But I was able to use my phone to place a bet or two. My usual bet is $2, but I bet $10 on Flightline to win. For the day, I was $8 richer, with Flightline contributing $4 of the total (he went off at 2 to 5, which means you won $2 for every $5 you bet). While not earthshaking, it was better than the stock market has been lately! Oh, and I was able to watch the race in the down-time between eating at great restaurants.
I have seen some legendary horses in person, mostly at now-closed Arlington Park. That includes the great Secretariat, who won an invitational race there on June 30, 1973. I also saw Dr. Fager run the fastest mile ever run on the dirt – one minute, thirty-two-and-a-half seconds – also at Arlington in 1968. On those days, the crowds would have exceeded 30,000. The last day I was at Arlington (last year), I doubt there were 5,000 people there, and it was a lovely Saturday.
Another reason racing has lost its appeal is that the great horses are retired to stud after their three-year-old year. Were Flightline to run next year, he might well earn $10 or $15 million in purses. He might also be seriously injured enough to be euthanized. The highest stud fee I know of currently is the nearly $400,000 charged in England for the European super horse, Dubawi. That’s what it costs for one mare to have one baby. It has been announced that Flightline’s initial fee will be $200,000. If he services 140 mares (a typical number), he would produce $28 million in stud fees in the first year alone! As they say, do the math.
Thus, the paradox. The great horses, who might excite the public as Citation, Seabisquit, Seattle Slew (Flightline’s great-great grandfather) and Dr. Fager once did as four- and even five-year-old’s, disappear from the scene before they even mature as runners. Once again, sportsmanship gives way to cold, hard cash. In this, of course, racing is not alone.
(P.S. You should be able to find reruns of Flightline’s races on the NBC sports site, or on YouTube. It’s worth doing.)
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon
2 thoughts on “The Horse of the Century (So Far)”
Thank you, Pat. Hadn’t heard about Fightline, though we used to very much enjoy the races at Arlington. Also enjoyed following the Triple Crown races and will never forget our mutual friend and Louisville native Skip’s Derby parties. Dick Bragaw’s
LikeLiked by 1 person
Went to Skip’s party once, but preferred to watch the race with no distractions! They haven’t torn down Arlington yet, but it’s just a matter of time. Sad.