Black Caviar flat, injured – but a bigger champion than ever
Black-Caviar wins Diamond Jubilee to earn greatness (AFP)
In winning Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee by a short head, Black Caviar showed the world she isn’t quite invincible but her victory entrenched her status as one of Australian racing’s greatest champions.
We didn’t see the best of Black Caviar at Royal Ascot. For the first time in her career she looked like any other horse – a mere mortal, but her victory in the Diamond Jubilee should not be underestimated.
She did it carrying injuries.
Post-race scans have shown Black Caviar tore two muscles and suffered severe bruising during the race. It’s not good news but it’s an injury she’s suffered and overcome before.
In getting Black Caviar ready for her gruelling international assignment, trainer Peter Moody kept the mare in work since October last year. In the last 12 months she’s had only 21 days off.
It was an unprecedented preparation for Royal Ascot, but by continuing to race her, fans around the country – including those in Adelaide – were able to enjoy the feats of the mare.
And on Saturday it looked like Black Caviar had enough.
Moody maintained that keeping the mare in work for the majority of the last six months would leave Black Caviar in the best possible shape for the long flight to England.
But June had always been a month of rest for Black Caviar and – injury withstanding – she seemed to be crying out for a break on Saturday night. She raced like a jaded horse.
In hindsight the signs of wear were there in Adelaide. Her usually clean coat had turned. Her wins against weak Group One opposition were largely unimpressive.
I described her victory in the Goodwood at Morphettville on May 12 as “the easiest of her career” but in reality it was her worst ever performance.
Luke Nolen didn’t ask Black Caviar to come off the bit in that race but she never strode away from her mediocre rivals like we are used to seeing.
If he let her go, she may not have found much.
But on Saturday, Black Caviar could not have done more to show us her championship qualities at Ascot.
It was the biggest moment of her career. For one of the first times since the retirement of Phar Lap, the nation was truly captured by a thoroughbred racehorse.
Black Caviar obviously wasn’t herself.
In the mounting yard she was fidgety; usually the mare parades without a care in the world.
On the way to the start Black Caviar had her ears pricked; she looked around. She wasn’t in her regular, focused pre-race headspace.
And during the race Black Caviar was injured and flat; vulnerable for the first ever time.
Moody believes the mare would’ve felt the injury in the run and yet she still won. That’s what champions do. When the chips are down, they find a way. They lift at the key moment and they win when they shouldn’t.
Against an international field Nolen had to ask Black Caviar for the supreme effort for probably the third time in her career and Black Caviar understandably couldn’t move away from her 13 opponents.
And at the finish she was done. The improving French mare Moonlight Cloud got to within a hair’s breadth of causing one of the biggest upsets in horse racing. Only luck saved Black Caviar – and jockey Luke Nolen – from the disaster of defeat.
Nolen admitted his decision to stop riding the mare when the race was on in earnest was a “brain fade” and I think he understands his mistake.
But that doesn’t matter.
In sport, victory is all that counts and Black Caviar is now an undefeated 12-time Group One winner across two hemispheres.
She is in unchartered waters. No horse has done anything like this. All considered, with injury, travel, and her unrelenting racing, it may have been the best win of her career.
A champion thoroughbred is rarely defined by the margins they win by.
A champion thoroughbred however, should be defined by the races they win, the horses they beat and the circumstances of their victories.
By that measure, Black Caviar must be one of the greatest champions of all time.
There will be no decision made on Black Caviar’s future until she returns home to Australia in a few weeks’ time. But if the Diamond Jubilee was her last race then the Australian racing fraternity will weep the absence of a star that singlehandedly dragged the sport into prosperous times in this country.
I hope it isn’t the end because Black Caviar has made the sport of horse racing seem important again.
Black Caviar may not be the greatest – indeed, Frankel may just be that – but she is fast becoming a legend of Australian sport.
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