Black Caviar will face the toughest test of her undefeated career when she lines up for the 19th time this afternoon in the 1000 metres of the Lightning Stakes at Flemington. Be sure to join us for a live blog of the race in the lead-up to the 4:10pm AEDT start time.
Peter Moody has thrown his mare into the deep end, asking her to back up after last week’s win in the C.F. Orr Stakes, and to do so while dropping back in distance some 400 metres.
Not only that, but Black Caviar is set to meet a field of sprinters, many of which have been set this race as their main assignment for the autumn Carnival.
There are so many reasons why today’s Lightning Stakes, run down the Flemington straight, is such an exciting proposition.
It is the first leg of the 2012 Global Sprint Challenge – a ten-leg series which boasts over $12M in prize money – and a new rule means that a horse can claim a $1 million bonus if they win any three Challenge legs. That is sure to garner interest from Black Caviar’s owners.
The Lightning is the first race since the 2011 Newmarket Handicap (when she broke the weight record while almost running a track record) that Moody has asked Black Caviar to do something extraordinary – most of the time she takes it upon herself to dazzle us.
The significant reduction in distance for Black Caviar shouldn’t be underestimated – dropping back from 1400 to 1000 metres can almost be regarded as going from a middle distance (whose minimum distance is 1401) to a sprint.
Not only that, but Cav comes into this, the fastest race on the Australian racing calendar, after a middling Orr Stakes in which her staying power wasn’t tested when a slow early speed turned the Caulfield Group 1 into a sprint home.
Unlike last week, you can bank on there being plenty of early speed today, and it could leave Black Caviar vulnerable at the start of the race. A slower than expected beginning is quite commonly something horses dropping back in distance have to overcome.
Sky Channel analyst Ron Dufficy thinks the mare can only be beaten if the early pace is so unrelenting that Caviar is never really able to find her comfort zone in coming back from 1400.
Black Caviar’s jockey Luke Nolen didn’t seem too worried about the likely fast speed in the Lightning when speaking to the media at Flemington.
“But she’s fit and she can carve out those very good sectionals. She can run sub elevens [sub 11-second sectionals for 200 metres] for the better part of a race and if they want to match her, they can,” Nolen said of Black Caviar.
Black Caviar is a noted star over the five-furlong trip. Her 1000-metre form is brilliant, as evidenced by her win in this race last year.
It was a five-length win, I was reminded only a couple days ago, that I described immediately afterwards as “the best 1000-metre win I’ve ever seen.”
Black Caviar has been presented with some pretty beatable opposition recently, but in today’s race there are undoubtedly horses capable of challenging her.
Hay List returns after a nine-month illness-enforced layoff for a fifth encounter with the mare, and his jockey Glyn Schofield is confident of victory.
He was quoted in the Sydney press as saying, “I’m not going to be worried or be intimidated by Black Caviar in any way.”
“But I’ll be out there to ride my horse the best I can, give him every chance to win. If he is good enough to win, then he will. If he doesn’t, he will still run a very good race,” he said.
It’s an honest approach from Schofield, whose Twitter account description – at least until Thursday, when it was changed – included something to the effect of “I will beat Black Caviar before I die.”
This is clearly the best field Black Caviar has met since winning the BTC Cup at Doomben in May last year. It includes Group 1 winners Phelan Ready and Lone Rock as well as speedy duo Buffering and three-year old Foxwedge.
Black Caviar’s eight challengers are all resuming from a spell. But it is Black Caviar who will be attempting to defy history, because it has been 25 years since a horse has won the Lightning Stakes third-up from a break.
And while West Australian Placid Ark was third-up for his 1987 Lightning success, he came into the race fresh off the back of a seven-week let-up.
In fact 18 of the last 21 Lightning Stakes have been won by horses first-up from a spell.
Victory for the mare will again be historically significant as she would equal Gloaming’s winning streak of 19, the longest in Australasian racing history.
American champion Zenyatta also ran 19 straight.
If Black Caviar can win this afternoon, she faces the prospect of backing up again next week in the Group 1 Futurity Stakes at Caulfield over 1400 metres, but it is also possible that she could be saved for a run in Sydney or even Dubai.
The more I think about it, the more I believe this is the day Black Caviar will be beaten if she ever does succumb. I’m wary of the drop in distance, and how she’ll cope on the back-up.
Moody justified the decision, adamant she would be in for a serious work-out even if she wasn’t racing this afternoon. But if Caviar happened to perform poorly and get beat in a track gallop, it wouldn’t count toward her record.
Hay List will ensure it’s more competitive than early-morning track-work for the champ. He has troubled Black Caviar (remembering not much else has), and we’re led to believe he’s flying.
One school of thought places Hay List as the number two sprinter in the world, so on that alone we should be expecting a spectacle.
Regardless of how close he gets to Black Caviar, it’s sure to be another memorable day’s racing at Flemington.
Let’s hope it’s a cracking race. Don’t forget to tune in on The Roar for the live blog – just scroll down.