Thanks for the memories, Black Caviar

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Black Caviar (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

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It came like a bolt out of the blue – Black Caviar, the most successful Australian racehorse of the modern era, had been retired, effective immediately.

The press conference was broadcast live around Australia, with both Channel 7 and Channel 9 taking it on their main channels.

ABC News 24 spent close to half an hour analysing what her retirement would mean for Australian sport, and she led nightly bulletins on a day which was set to focus on the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the funeral of Margaret Thatcher.

It was recognition that she deserved her place in the pantheon of legends along with Phar Lap.

As I wrote months ago, the common thread between Black Caviar and Phar Lap was not merely their tremendous ability, but in the connection forged with an adoring public.

The prospect of retirement following her 25th win in the Group 1 T J Smith Stakes (1200m) in Sydney had been all but forgotten in the aftermath of Saturday’s stellar victory, with almost every racing fan anticipating an announcement today or tomorrow about a second tilt at the Group 1 BTC Cup (1200m) on May 11.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of it all was the fact we were all so surprised by the news she was to be retired – an hour and a half before the press conference, it was unthinkable.

The writing was on the wall with Racing Victoria’s media alert, sent out at 1:45pm: a simple, short paragraph hinting at what was to come.

“Media are invited to the stables of trainer Peter Moody…at 3pm sharp today for a media call pertaining to the future of unbeaten champion Black Caviar. Moody and the owners of Black Caviar will be in attendance,” it said.

The fact a press conference was being held in the first place was a sign it was not to be an ordinary announcement. If she was simply going to Brisbane for the Group 1 BTC Cup (1200m) or to Adelaide for the Group 1 Goodwood (1200m), both on May 11, it surely would have passed through the usual channels.

By that, it would have been passed to racing’s resident newshound, Sky Racing’s Andrew Bensley, or to a number of other journalists – Radio Sport National’s Shane Anderson and TVN’s Bruce Clark or Adrian Dunn are names that come to mind.

Not only that, her owners would be present. It seemed a major announcement was on the way.

Meanwhile, the whispers reached a fever pitch when it was announced Black Caviar’s regular jockey Luke Nolen had been stood down from his remaining rides at Sandown.

It was unrelated, but it led many to declare we were about to say goodbye to the mare.

But would she go to Royal Ascot before a date with champion British galloper Frankel in the breeding barn? Or would that be it for Nelly?

At 3pm, the answer was known. The career of arguably the greatest sprinter to grace Australia’s racetracks was indeed over.

Who would ever have expected Peter Moody, the battler from in western Queensland, would one day hold a press conference which would be afforded the same status as that of a major announcement by the prime minister?

Tomorrow morning, we’ll awake from the dream which has taken us in over the last four years.

The post-Black Caviar hangover will be brutal for all who have followed her, but for those of us who are involved in racing, we need to ensure we maintain the interest she has generated in the sport in the last four years.

We need to ensure that interest in racing doesn’t dissipate now Black Caviar will not grace the turf again.

We need to ensure the young girl who sat on her mother’s shoulders outside Randwick Racecourse last week to watch Black Caviar as she trotted back to the grandstand is a future participant in the industry in some form.

The power of Black Caviar’s career legacy rests upon that which makes her unique – the ability to transcend racing circles to touch all who come across her story.

In terms of her legacy, the story of Black Caviar is just beginning.

For us, this is a pressing question as we pause to reflect on her career.

I was lucky enough to see her in the flesh six times – the 2010 Schweppes Stakes (a day which also saw So You Think win his second Cox Plate), the 2011 Newmarket Handicap, the 2011 T J Smith Stakes, the 2011 Schweppes Stakes, the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes and the 2013 T J Smith Stakes.

Those memories will last with me for a lifetime, as will the numerous items of memorabilia.

A few weeks ago, I gave my top five wins by the champion mare. To me, I still rate the 2011 T J Smith Stakes and the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes as her greatest victories.

Now, however, her swansong would have to enter calculations – not only for her dominance, but for the atmosphere and the mitigating circumstances.

It is something we’ll miss in the coming weeks and months.

Earlier today, the Twitter account of stud farm Eliza Park quoted the Elizabethan poet Thomas Ford.

It was a quote which was used by then-Prime Minister Robert Menzies in reference to Queen Elizabeth II, and it makes a fitting tribute as we say farewell to an equine queen.

“I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her until I die…”

Amen. Farewell Nelly. Thanks for the memories.

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