It was pure sporting excellence, a flawless performance in front of a captive audience of thousands, a moment none who witnessed it, live or otherwise, will likely ever forget.

On a warm Saturday autumn November 5 afternoon at Keeneland Racetrack, those who had gathered at the Kentucky oval waited anxiously for the appearance of the sculpted bay colt, the one known as Flightline, when he would stride onto the racetrack for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, an event that showcased the very best in the sport.

Undefeated in five starts coming into the race, the 4-year-old son of Tapit-Feathered had already become a rock star in Thoroughbred racing, an equine athlete who attracted a legion of fans, old and new, along his journey to stardom.

Touted by many as a slam-dunk to win the 1 ¼-mile Classic, Flightline loaded into the gate as the overwhelming 2-5 favorite, seven rivals standing in his way of stamping himself as one of racing’s all-time greats.

Breaking alertly, Flightline tracked early pacesetter, multiple stakes winning Life is Good in the early stages. Not long after, the pair proceeded to pull away from the field, making it a two-horse race.

At least that’s what it looked to be.

With champion rider Flavien Prat in the saddle, Flightline was given his cue in early stretch, and he responded with a lightning-quick burst, not unlike an airplane powering down the runway.

In a matter of seconds, it was all over.

With every stride Flightline took, the decibel level from the grandstand rose. Nearing the finish line, the crowd grew audibly louder, cheering on the horse who had already made headlines well beyond the Thoroughbred world.

At the wire, the people’s horse was 8 ¼-lengths in front of his nearest rival, a stunning display of dominance and athletic excellence.

Once again, he was front-page news.

So impressive was Flightline that other trainers unabashedly lauded his performance.

Two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill, whose 4-year-old Hot Rod Charlie finished sixth in the eight-horse field, offered, “That’s a freakish, freakish horse. Just amazing. I haven’t seen a better one in my lifetime.”

Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott, whose Olympiad was second, was equally effusive in his praise. “That’s a pretty special horse,” he said. “He chased down a fast horse and then kept going and drew off. You just don’t see that. He’s comparable to any of the great ones I’ve seen. Very, very special.”

Flightline arrived at what would be the final start of his career off a handful of equally sensational efforts. He had won his races by an aggregate 62 ¾ lengths. After the Classic, it expanded to 71 lengths.

In the aftermath of the race, his trainer, John Sadler, spoke glowingly and affectionately of his superstar.

“His brilliance is normal,” said Sadler. “He’s just a remarkable, remarkable racehorse. How do you describe greatness like this? He’s one of those great American racehorses that comes along every 20 or 30 years. I tried to be a good steward for this horse. If you’re good to your horses, they’re good to you.”

Where he will rate among the all-time greats, a list that includes the legendary Secretariat and a few select others, will likely be debated for years.

On a Saturday afternoon at Keeneland, it wasn’t on the minds of those who watched in awe.

Instead, it was all about adoration for a star who transcended horse racing, a four-legged phenom who was retired to Lane’s End Farm one day after his outstanding triumph.

Flightline will stand as the property of a syndicate with a stud fee to be announced.

“We would like to thank trainer John Sadler and his team for the incredible work they did with Flightline,” said Lane’s End’s Bill Farish. “His historic performances are a credit to their expertise and unwavering efforts to bring out the very best in the horse.”

And, as seen over his spectacular six-race career, Flightline brought out the very best in the sport of kings, taking fans, young and old, new or established, on a genuine thrill ride.

Feature image:  Flavien Prat, atop Flightline, looks between his legs for the rest of the field after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic at the Breeders’ Cup Championships at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington. Photo by Mark Abraham/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News