After the Kentucky Derby, Racehorses Fetch Top Dollar in Breeding Sheds

That payday explains why the greatest horses in racing — including, in all likelihood, the winner of Saturday’s Derby — are destined to have short careers, and why fans can’t enjoy the best horses for long. The economics of modern horse racing practically guarantee it.

On the racetrack, it took Flightline two years and six undefeated races to earn $4.5 million in purses. Doing what came naturally twice a day in the breeding shed, he matched that total in 11 days, doubled it in 22 and, with 155 mares in his date book, will have generated $31 million in earnings by the end of the five-month breeding in July.

In a sport perpetually troubled by doping scandals, the frequent and mysterious deaths of its athletes, competition from other kinds of gambling and waning interest among fans, it is a counterintuitive choice to retire him. Just last November, at 4 years old, Flightline was the most exciting thoroughbred in the world. He had won all of his six races by a combined 71 lengths and brought large crowds to see him soar around racetracks like Pegasus.

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