By Christie DeBernardis
Within minutes of Flightline crossing the wire in another jaw-dropping victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the question buzzing across the racing world was whether we would get the chance to see him race again. Many argued against his retirement, saying racing needs a hero and, at least right now and for the foreseeable future, he is certainly it.
Some 16 hours later, we got our answer. The unbeaten sensation was retired to the Lane's End stallion barn, where he is already in high demand. Many were saddened to see their hero ride off into the sunset (though I have no doubt he will remain in the headlines for many years to come). However, what those people don't realize is racing still has the hero it needs, and her name is Jane Lyon.
First of all, without Jane, there is no Flightline. Along with her trusted team, Jane picked out his dam Feathered and, in true Jane Lyon fashion, fought off all comers to secure the mare she wanted. The Arkansas native and her brain trust chose Tapit for the mare's 2017 breeding and on March 14, 2018, Flightline was born in a deep bed of straw at Lyon's beautiful Summer Wind Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. I'm sure Lyon was right there to towel the colt off and mark him with her lipstick.
It took more than choosing the right mare and stallion to create Flightline. It was also the top-notch care, extreme attention to detail and, most importantly Jane and her giant heart. She loves every single animal on her property with everything she has, especially her foals, who all get plenty of carrots, kisses and sweet words from their breeder throughout their life at Summer Wind. Jane keeps track of them all long after they leave the farm and welcomes them back home if they ever need a soft place to land.
Jane makes sure everyone in her employ is aware of the kindness she expects her horses to be shown. She always says you can teach horses with sternness and punishment or with love and kindness, and she chooses the latter. Her outlook and endless devotion create horses who are good-minded, very people friendly, smart and kind. Flightline has been described to have all these attributes.
I know what you're thinking. There are plenty of owners and breeders who love their horses and are kind to them. You're right. But I assure you, none of them are like Jane Lyon.
Jane is a bright light in an industry that has been plagued with darkness, especially over the last few years. She always says I oversell her, or I'm biased, when I describe her to others, but I have yet to find one person who disagrees with me. Jane is as kind and generous to people as she is to her animals, always offering a kind word and her signature million-dollar smile to everyone she meets.
Jane happily shares her farm, elite broodmares and regally bred foals with any horse lover, which is how I came to know her. The first time I spoke to Jane was a phone interview after American Pharoah won the Triple Crown. It was just two years into my career, and we had a lovely, 30-minute conversation about her pride and joy Littleprincessemma, after which I realized my recorder had missed it all. Embarrassed, I called back, and Jane graciously went through it all again. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane a few more times over the next few years, and she was equally gracious each time, always remembering my name. In 2018, the opportunity came to do a story that would bring me to Summer Wind, a dream come true, and she welcomed me with open arms.
The first time I stepped foot on Summer Wind, a farm I now know as well as my own neighborhood, it was just six weeks after Flightline was born. I can't say I remember him from that day or knew I was looking at a future superstar as my focus was on his barnmate Triple Tap, a half-brother to my hero at the time, American Pharoah. What I did know however, is I was among greatness at Summer Wind, both human and equine.
I ended up spending the entire day with Jane, even witnessing the foaling of Princess Arabella's 2018 Union Rags colt. Long after the interview had ended, we chatted away like old friends. It is an anomaly among horsewomen. When they recognize a kindred spirit whose passion for horses burns as bright as their own, it bonds them instantly and that is what happened that fateful day in Georgetown.
Ever since that day, Summer Wind has become a regular stop on my frequent trips to Kentucky. I spend at least one day of my trip driving through the farm with Jane looking at (and feeding carrots to) racing's past and future stars, wondering which of the beautiful foals before me will be the next McKinzie, Moonshine Memories, Chasing Yesterday, Game Winner or Flightline.
While neither Jane, myself, nor anyone else could have ever predicted Flightline would become what he did, it does not surprise me that a horse like that came off Jane's farm. And, in my opinion, there is no one that deserves it more.
Jane has faced plenty of adversity throughout her life and has been tested time and time again, but that is her story to tell. What I will tell you though, is she is as fierce as she is kind and doesn't let anything keep her down for long. Jane has put in plenty of time, effort, sweat, tears and, of course, love to get to be the highly respected breeder, and person, she is today.
I've met a lot of great people over the past decade working in this industry, but there is no one like Jane. I have never seen another horsewoman of her stature lay in the stall with a motherless foal and stroke her to sleep, giving her the motherly love she was lacking, like Jane has on more than one occasion. She takes in every stray dog dropped at her doorstep and provides them a dream life. She claims any Summer Wind-bred she finds running at a cheap track somewhere and brings them home to live out their days in her retirement field. She opens her door and her heart to anyone I or any other friend asks to bring along for a one-of-a-kind day at Summer Wind (as well as the Littleprincessemma fans who reach her office manager). She cooks for three people as if she has 10 coming for dinner, so she can also feed her staff as a mother feeds her children. She will go above and beyond to help anyone in need and always puts others before herself.
Jane's most endearing quality is her humility. In fact, she will probably hate that I spent so many words gushing over her in such a public forum, but I assure you all, every one of them is true and well deserved.
The other day, a friend of mine, who has met Jane on two occasions now, said, “the world doesn't deserve Jane,” after I told her a heart-warming anecdote about Jane from earlier that day. I told the same story to another friend, whom I brought along for one of those very special Summer Wind days, and her response was, “we need more people like Jane in this world.” They both could not be more right.
Jane is one of the few truly kind, genuine and selfless people left in this world. When things in the industry get a bit dark and I begin to get discouraged, I look to Jane and see everything that is good in this sport. She gives me hope and reminds me why I love racing.
So, while I'll miss seeing Flightline on the racetrack as much as everyone else, I'm just so glad those of us in racing still have a hero among us in Jane Lyon. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what she gives us next.
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