Taking Stock: Flightline and that Share

Flightline | Breeders' Cup – Eclipse Sportswire

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About an hour or so after one of 40 shares in Flightline, a son of Tapit and the Indian Charlie mare Feathered, was sold for an unimaginable $4.6 million in an historic special session at Keeneland Monday, Flightline was led out of his stall at Lane's End and posed behind the stallion barn, oblivious to the hubbub on the sales grounds about 10 miles away.

He's a stunning and athletic physical specimen, standing 16.2 hands, with length to go with height and balance. He's so well put together and pleasing to look at that at first glance no one single feature jumps out and grabs the eye, because all of him does at once, flooding the senses. But zoom in here and there and it's evident that the parts that make up the whole are of the finest quality: a well-defined and chiseled masculine shoulder with depth; strong forearms over clean and smooth limbs with short cannons; pasterns at exactly the right angles that are neither too short nor too long; a big hip and butt; and hind legs set perfectly underneath. He'd first caught the eye of Lane's End Bloodstock's David Ingordo as an early and unfinished yearling at breeder Jane Lyon's Summer Wind, and later that year, in August, was purchased by his current ownership group on Ingordo's advice for $1 million at Fasig-Tipton's marquee Saratoga sale.

It's evident that Flightline gets some of his looks from broodmare sire Indian Charlie, who also had size, strength, masculinity, and similar patterns of muscling, except Indian Charlie was slightly back at the knee and had rough ankles, neither of which plagues Flightline.

What stands out the most about Flightline is his mind and presence: he's non-plussed, intelligent, and kind. Here he was, two days after he'd clobbered a high-level field in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, calmly and confidently surveying his new home, and it's easy to understand how he overcame several mishaps and one major injury along the way and continued to train on with gusto and win at the highest levels.

At the moment, Flightline is being let down cautiously, spending time in a round pen when he's not in his stall. It's expected that by the end of next week he'll be in a paddock like the other studs at the farm, as he's transitioning quickly from a life of hard training at the track to an easier life on the farm for his next career as a stallion.

The Share

Flightline is owned by a 40-share syndicate, with Kosta Hronis and family controlling 15 shares; Lyon's Summer Wind, 10 shares; Terry Finley's West Point, seven shares; Bill Farish and partners' Woodford, four shares; and Anthony Manganaro's Siena Farm, four shares. Lane's End will get breeding rights for standing the horse, and a few others are in the hands of trainer John Sadler and David Ingordo.

The share–a 2.5% fractional interest–that was auctioned came from the West Point group, which is composed of seven individual partners with one share each (2.5% of 40 is one share). Some of them pooled portions of their fractional interests to form one share or 2.5% to offer at auction, and Freddie Seitz, as agent for an undisclosed Seattle-based owner and client with interests in the coffee business, held off underbidder Coolmore to secure the share for the $4.6 million, placing a “value” of $184 million on Flightline's head. In comparison, Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy) had a book value of $75 million as a new sire just a few years ago.

The big share price is, of course, a trophy prize, and in the strictest sense it will not bear a direct relationship to his stud fee, which is $200,000 live foal–as much as the entering fees of American Pharoah, Ghostzapper, and Devil's Bag. At that fee, based on a four-year return and, say, a 160-mare cap, a traditional market value for a share would likely be about $2.8 to $3 million based on pure back-of-napkin math without expenses: two seasons each year (each shareholder gets two seasons) is $400,000, multiplied by four years, is $1.6 million; and on the back end, a bonus pool of $12 million a year (say 60 mares at $200,000 is $12 million), divided by 40 shares, is $300,000 per share per year, times four years, is $1.2 million. Extending this example over five years, a case could be made for $2 million in stud fee income and $1.5 million in bonus-pool money (assuming the stud fee stays the same), for a value of $3.5 million, plus depreciation. And there's also the possibility of added bonus-pool monies from expanding his book and from breeding Flightline at Lane's End on Southern Hemisphere time.

The Flightline syndicate, of course, is tightly held by the colt's original ownership group, which is to say that not many shares will become available. That scarcity–think of it as an illiquid market–means that the shares that do become available will be snapped up by those few that have the means to pay premium-plus, like the unnamed buyer at $4.6 million and the underbidder, Coolmore, at $4.5 million.

For such owners, that type of money may not be as outlandish as it seems to some. An entity like Coolmore, for example, could breed to Flightline a mare like Gamine, who was purchased for $7 million, and race the offspring, hoping to get a top-class winner. And if Flightline becomes a success at stud like undefeated Frankel, who will stand for about $315,000 in 2023, that would be money well spent in hindsight.

Betting on any unproven stallion is a gamble, but Flightline has the impeccable credentials to succeed as a stallion. Not only is he a son of the elite stallion Tapit, whose son Constitution will stand for $110,000 at WinStar in 2023, he's from a mare, Feathered, who won a Grade 3 race and placed three times in Grade I races, earning $577,474. Moreover, Feathered, who was bred by Teresa Viola, spouse of Vinny Viola (who has a Flightline share under the West Point umbrella), is from the sought-after Phipps family of Blitey/Lady Pitt and was purchased by Lyon in 2016 at Keeneland November for $2,350,000.

In other words, Flightline was bred to be a superstar, and he's that rare example of a horse that realized his lofty potential–and some.

Combine this pedigree with Flightline's exceptional looks, astonishing talent, and undefeated race record, and he is–as the share price reflected–the most desirable new prospect to enter the marketplace in a long time.

   Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

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