Every night (or morning), multitudes of people in everyday jobs copulate, then proceed to have extremely productive workdays. Their coital commingling does not detract from their workplace performance. If anything, the ensuing endorphin rush may only enhance it.
Some athletes have been known to abstain from amorous relations before important competitions, believing that energy expended during sex might subtract from performance in their chosen sport. Such prudish practices, however, have normally been dismissed as the stuff of superstition.
But with racehorses, it’s different. While colts are certainly capable of intermittently mounting mares and running fast, to do either at peak level requires laser focus. And when you consider that a mystery buyer paid $4.6 million for just a 2.5% stake in the runaway Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Flightline (valuing the horse, which was retired to stud after the race, at an astonishing $184 million), there’s just as much pressure for elite horses to perform in the breeding shed as there is on the track.
“They cannot breed and race — just two different things,” said Terry Finley, president and CEO of West Point Thoroughbreds, which sold part of its 17.5% stake in Flightline to the aforementioned mystery buyer. “They need to focus on one or the other.”
“Stallions stand to cover mares two to four times a day during the season, which typically runs four to five months,” added Pat Cummings, executive director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation. “They add a ton of weight. Some, of course, shuttle to the Southern Hemisphere and do another four to five months there. It has to be all natural, too. So it’s work — no time to train as a racehorse when on stallion duty.”
Then there’s the more relatable factor for those superstitious humans.
“Many old-school horsemen believe a horse loses his competitive fire once he ejaculates, which is why horses are not test-bred before they are retired,” said Ray Paulick, publisher of The Paulick Report. “There was an instance going back a number of years when a major owner was going to send a horse to race in a major European race, but European authorities required a semen sample because of a disease outbreak in the U.S. The owner declined because he did not want the horse to ejaculate for the test prior to racing.”
Studs on the track, not in the shed
With a perfect record of six wins — none of them remotely close — in six starts, Flightline leaves the track as arguably the most dominant racehorse in the history of the sport. But he was brought along cautiously by trainer John Sadler, racing just three times as both a 3-year-old and 4-year-old and experiencing some minor injury setbacks along the way.
From the standpoint of maximizing his owners’ investment, Flightline is being retired to stud at exactly the right time. The only thing that could theoretically increase his worth would be a victory in one or more Triple Crown races, something he cannot go back in time to do, as those races are restricted to 3-year-olds. And if Flightline were permitted to keep racing at this point, a loss or injury could only hurt the value of his breeding rights.
But what if Flightline is a dud as a stud instead of an equine John Holmes? Could his owners, desperate to recoup at least some of their sizable investment, return him to the track?
It’s been done — quite successfully — before.
Precisionist and Battle of Midway were, like Flightline, colts who cut their teeth on the Southern California circuit before winning Breeders’ Cup races — Precisionist in the Sprint, Battle of Midway in the Dirt Mile — and being retired to stud. But while the jury’s still out on Flightline, neither Precisionist nor Battle of the Midway were prolific lovers. Far from it, in fact, as both horses were declared “sub-fertile” after producing very few foals and returned to training.
Nearly 10 months after winning the Dirt Mile, Battle of Midway finished a very respectable second in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar. He would go on to race five more times, winning three more stakes races, before he was euthanized after breaking down in training at Santa Anita Park in 2019. Battle of Midway died having won eight of his 16 starts and finishing in the money six additional times for career earnings of $1.6 million.
Precisionist returned to racing at the age of 7, more than a year and a half after he embarked upon his ill-fated detour as a high-priced sire. The 1985 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter showed his rust in his first two races upon coming out of retirement, registering a DNF and a fourth-place finish. But then he reeled off three straight victories in classy company and punched his ticket to the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, where he finished fifth.
A runner-up in his final three races, Precisionist finished with 20 wins in 46 starts and career earnings of $3.5 million, which, adjusted for inflation, would be about $9 million in today’s dollars.
A very expensive one-night stand
As for Flightline, he earned a little more than $4.5 million in his six career starts. While his stud fee has yet to be established, it’s a safe bet that a swift, intimate date with Flightline will cost a hopeful mare owner hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Hence, while horse bettors and fans alike might be secretly rooting for Flightline to fire blanks, his connections are plenty motivated to make sure he’s as successful covering mares as he was winning races.
Photo: Michael Clevenger and Christopher Granger/Courier Journal