Mystic Journey is going to be awfully hard to beat this preparation based on her first-up performance at Caulfield on Saturday, but I wouldn’t be rushing in to back her in any futures markets.
This Friday night sees Black Caviar appear in Melbourne for possibly the final time.
She has raced in her home city at 17 of her 23 starts across three of the four Melbourne metropolitan tracks – eight times down the Flemington straight, four times at her home track of Caulfield, and six times at Moonee Valley.
Friday night’s Group one William Reid Stakes (1200m) sees her make it seven racetrack appearances at Moonee Valley, a course where she has enjoyed some of her most dominant wins.
It has led me to consider the question: what was Black Caviar’s greatest win?
What have been the pinnacles of a stellar career?
Every person will have different criteria for what constitutes a great win.
Some may choose to rank her best victories by the winning margins of each race. If that was the case, the top five races would be the 2009 Blue Sapphire Stakes (winning margin of six lengths), the 2011 Moir Stakes (6L), the 2010 Moir Stakes (5.5L), her debut win (5L) and the 2012 Robert Sangster Stakes (4.5L).
Notably, none of these five victories are on my list.
Some might choose to go on ratings. Using a good mate’s ratings, the 2011 Newmarket Handicap would go on top of the 2012 Lightning Stakes and the 2011 T J Smith Stakes. That’s a more accurate measure, but I still don’t think it tells the whole story.
Each of her best wins, in my opinion, have certain common traits. In each of these races, she was forced to prove her champion qualities.
They may have come in different forms – whether it was winning despite injury, or having to fight doggedly, or even having the weight of history against her – she was still able to overcome all that and win.
Also, these wins managed to capture public attention. Every race of hers has captured some level of attention, but these races have attracted more focus than others.
One of her wins came very close to making the list – last year’s Group 1 Lightning Stakes (1000m), where she managed to overcome Hay List once more only a week after winning the Group 1 C F Orr Stakes (1400m). It fulfilled my criteria, as she managed to win two such different races within the space of seven days.
However, after close consideration, I am left with these top five. I look forward to all the disagreements about which races should have been on the list, or which races should have been ranked higher or lower!
5. Group 2 Danehill Stakes (1200m), Flemington, 5/9/2009
I think racing fans tend to overlook the Danehill Stakes when assessing her career. In all honesty, if she’d been any other horse, the Black Caviar legend would probably have ended that day in 2009.
This was her fourth career start. To that point, she had won a two-year-old handicap at Flemington in April, the Listed Blue Sapphire Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield in May and the Listed Arrow Training Services Plate (1200m) at Moonee Valley in August. She won all three by big margins, gaining a following which looks minuscule today.
She went to the barriers at Flemington a raging $1.45 favourite, with subsequent Group 1 placegetter Rarefied the second favourite at $10.
However, drama struck as the field jumped away. Black Caviar, second from the inside, knuckled badly as the gates opened and scrambled for the first few strides, knocking over Point Pain as she struggled to regain her action.
After 100 metres, she had managed to take up her customary handy position. However, she didn’t look to travel comfortably at any stage.
She kicked away with 300 metres to go, although it wasn’t as strong a burst as she’d shown at her previous starts.
Inside the final few metres, Wanted – who had tracked her all the way – peeled off her back and made strong ground. However, Black Caviar was able to hold on for a 3/4L victory over Wanted, with Rarefied third.
It was later discovered that she’d pulled chest muscles as she’d jumped out of the gates, an injury which saw her miss the rest of the 2009 spring.
Of course, Wanted would go on to win the Newmarket Handicap quite impressively the following autumn.
To beat a Newmarket Handicap winner while injured is something quite extraordinary, which is why this race should not be forgotten when assessing her career.
4. Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning (1000m) – Flemington, 16/2/2013
After all the drama of her English sojourn, there was much doubt over whether she’d be seen on a racetrack again. If she did race again, it was largely assumed she couldn’t be as good as she had been prior to her overseas trip.
A spring preparation pleased Peter Moody enough that it was decided she would return in the autumn.
The aim was the Black Caviar Lightning, which she was striving to win for the third year in a row. It was the first running of the race with the Black Caviar moniker, and given her success in the race in the past, it must have seemed a natural target.
As her preparations continued, public excitement grew once more. However, there was still that nagging question – would she come back as good as before?
She started a $1.10 favourite in a Lightning that was fairly weak outside of her, and within a matter of moments, the race looked to be hers for the taking.
With 400m to go, she was still coasting while her rivals were under pressure. It all looked ridiculously easy.
It was the Black Caviar of old!
She crossed the line two and a half lengths clear of Moment of Change, with Golden Archer completing a Peter Moody trifecta back in third.
She was back, and remarkably, it seemed she may have been back better than ever. This may be put to the test on Friday night, but after witnessing her victory, it was hard to disagree.
Incredibly, it had taken until her 23rd start for Black Caviar to break a track record. But what a record to break!
The Flemington 1000m track record had been held by Special since 1988, and it was fitting that on the 25th anniversary of that race, another great mare could eclipse the mark.
It was a truly “Special” victory.
3. Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m) – Flemington, 12/3/2011
At her 10th start, Black Caviar lined up in the Newmarket Handicap, carrying 58kg.
She was aiming to set a weight carrying record for a mare, although under a compressed scale, this wasn’t as big a feat as it would have been a few decades ago.
Nevertheless, it was still a big ask, especially considering the nearest horse in the weights was Eagle Falls, a last start Group 1 winner carrying 55kg (a 4.5kg difference under weight for age).
There is a video on Youtube of me, sitting in the Flemington stands, cheering her crazily as she goes on to win the Newmarket.
It is good, because it gives me some insights on my thoughts during that race. At about the 700m, we are heard to say, “she’s cruising” while the race wasn’t in doubt 300m from home.
That gives some idea of the ease of the victory. It was all too easy for her. She was hardly touched in winning by three lengths.
She didn’t beat slouches, either. Golden Slipper winner Crystal Lily ran second, while subsequent Doomben 10000 winner Beaded finished third.
As a handicap, this has produced her highest rating to date, and it remains one of her best performances.
2. Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (6f – a1200m) – Ascot, 23/6/2012
This race may have the distinction of being the most analysed race by the Australian media, outside a Melbourne Cup, in recent years.
The story has been told many times, so I will tell it from my perspective – as one who was lucky enough to be working trackside that June day last year.
Royal Ascot had already been filled with highlights. It was going to be hard to top the first race of the festival the Tuesday prior, which saw Frankel demolish his Queen Anne Stakes rivals by 11 lengths.
Wednesday saw So You Think win the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at his final start, while Thursday and Friday had their own highlights.
But it was always expected the carnival would end with a bang as Black Caviar made her first European appearance.
It was like Berkshire was the seventh Australian state that day, there were so many Aussies in attendance. It was estimated that about a sixth of the 50 000-strong crowd were Australian.
The atmosphere continued to build post-race, until the time came for her to parade before the crowd.
From the time she entered the parade ring, it was clear she wasn’t right. She was agitated, far from the relaxed animal we were used to seeing in Australian mounting yards. As she stepped out onto the track, she seemed reluctant to gallop up to the start.
Unusual for her.
There was a nagging feeling among all there that something wasn’t right. But she was Black Caviar, not just any horse. She could overcome it.
As they jumped, Black Caviar found herself near the lead. And with two furlongs to go, she found herself in front. A nation held its breath.
When Luke Nolen asked her to go with a furlong and a half to travel, everyone expected her to put up her normal margin of a couple of lengths.
It wasn’t there.
She was left battling Soul, a horse she would have lapped when he raced in Australia, as the swoopers made their way down the outside.
It looked like she’d have enough in hand to defeat Moonlight Cloud and Restiadargent, before Luke Nolen eased up on her, sensing something was not right.
Standing among a group of Australians, we started swearing as the post loomed. Emotions ran high. And as they hit the line, more cursing was joined by dread. Had she held on?
Next to us in the stands, there was excited screaming in French. We were standing next to the owners of Moonlight Cloud, and they thought they had grabbed the prized scalp of Black Caviar.
Our liberal swearing along with the French celebrations provided us with our own “My Fair Lady” moment, where we stood out like a sore thumb among English aristocrats and society’s finest.
Alas, she had just held on, and the cheers erupted. But no sooner had we saluted the victory that we ran down to the parade ring to see her come back for a reception with the Queen.
Pre-race, the ABC’s Gerard Whateley had said he would try to engage all Australians at Royal Ascot in a verse of Waltzing Matilda should she win. Despite her victory, though, his attempts would have amounted to nothing. It felt more funeral than festive.
Standing in the yard as she returned to applause, I heard Black Caviar’s vet utter the words, “she’s not right, she’s injured herself.” That was when the post-race mania began.
Half an hour after the race, Peter Moody still looked shaken and Luke Nolen was still as white as a ghost.
As Nolen signed racebooks for the media (beer in one hand, pen in the other), the gravity of the situation began to sink in.
It was the most unusual victory celebration imaginable.
The fact she could still win, in a foreign country on an unusual track while injured, showed her true champion qualities.
As time progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Black Caviar’s victory at Royal Ascot must rank as one of her most remarkable performances.
1. Group 1 T J Smith Stakes (1200m) – Randwick, 9/4/2011
Black Caviar’s first and to date only Sydney appearance ranks at the top of my list.
Despite being a Sydneysider, I assure you there is no bias – I’ve seen her in the flesh a number of times in Melbourne, as well as in England. But nothing tops her performance this day.
The quality of field she met in the T J Smith was sensational, as good a field as she has met in Australia. Of her 10 rivals, eight won a Group 1 at some stage in their careers.
The field included her arch rival Hay List, Doncaster Mile winner Triple Honour, Coolmore Classic winner and July Cup placegetter Alverta, Robert Sangster Stakes winner Response, Golden Slipper winner Crystal Lily, Patinack Farm Classic winner All Silent, Australian Derby winner Shoot Out and subsequent Galaxy winner Shellscrape.
Things became really exciting as they rounded the home turn. Hay List, a natural in Sydney, took the home turn like a greyhound. Black Caviar, first time the Sydney direction, wobbled around the turn and took time to balance up.
This race required her to go to a new level. She couldn’t use her high cruising speed here to break her rivals. This time, she wasn’t the bunny – she was the chaser.
With 300 metres to go, Black Caviar was giving Hay List at least four lengths, perhaps even five. It was a formidable margin to close.
The atmosphere when Hay List kicked clear was electrifying. It seemed the thought that she could be beaten had crossed the minds of everyone at Randwick. As one the crowd lifted to will Black Caviar on, hoping she could find that little bit extra in order to catch Hay List.
Amazingly, find she did. Within the space of 100m, she had made up significant ground on Hay List. He was not weakening – he was pulling away from the rest of the field – she was just too strong.
She hit the lead with 120m to go, cruising away to win by 2.8L. Triple Honour just grabbed third from Alverta.
As she returned to scale, the reception was overwhelming. She was a goddess, worshipped by her fans. It provided the first real sense that the Black Caviar phenomenon was growing bigger than anyone could have ever dreamed.
The Moir Stakes in the spring had been the first sign that she was gaining greater interest, with people cramming every vantage point to see her race. And the Newmarket Handicap produced a great atmosphere as she made it 10 on end.
But at Randwick, it seemed the sole intention of racegoers was to see her. The masks were out in force, people were wearing salmon and black – it was the first time I’d seen her drawing power transcend racing circles and reach into the wider community.
Her reach was on show again in Brisbane, while the following spring saw Black Caviar fever reach its heights in Melbourne.
Of all her races, though, it was the fighting T J Smith victory which transformed her from a racing icon into the public’s darling – a place she still occupies today.