Australia’s most prestigious thoroughbred race has been decided in the stewards’ room with State Of Rest winning the $5 million WS Cox Plate after surviving a protest.
This has been a good news week in Australian racing. Black Caviar had her first foal. James Cummings won his first Group 1 in partnership with Grandpa Bart: a Hallowed Crown indeed.
Favourite Dissident and top Melbourne Cup fancy Fawkner fought out the Makybe Diva Stakes. The sun shone at Flemington and, at last, at Rosehill. Spring is sprung.
Not all weeks are like this, as you know. You can be sure that even last Saturday there were more hard-luck stories than triumphs. On a nine-race card there are only nine winners. But for those of us with no vested interests in the results, it was a pleasure to be around.
So let’s talk about Black Caviar. Like everything else in the career of this marvellous mare, the public relations have been handled with assurance. Does she use the same people as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge?
Managing part-owner Neil Werrett even got to the Hunter Valley in time for the birth and produced a well crafted statement for Sydney’s Sky Sports Radio.
“She did it all very naturally with very little assistance,” he said.
“Black Caviar was the people’s horse and we are looking forward to sharing this filly’s journey with the people of Australia.”
Meanwhile, Dissident was trained and part-owned by Peter Moody – who was crucial to the career of Black Caviar.
I’m glad that Werrett, unlike so many who have waxed lyrical about the champion in the past, didn’t use the pronoun ‘it’ instead of ‘she’. No discounting Black Caviar’s gender now that she has become a mother.
Black Caviar has made her way into the public’s affection, way beyond racing fans, in a manner we haven’t seen since the days of Phar Lap.
Yes, we’ve had great champions between who have been hugely popular – Bernborough, Tulloch, Gunsynd, Kingston Town, Sunline to name a few, and then triple Cup-winner Makybe Diva.
But Black Caviar by virtue of never losing, and maybe by the modesty and astuteness of her trainer and jockey, managed to win hearts around Australia and beyond. Being a girl probably helped.
We saw Black Caviar in Sydney and Melbourne, in Adelaide and Brisbane, and then all Australia watched her at Royal Ascot. We took a share in her.
Memories are short, especially sporting memories. Her triumph of an undefeated career of 25 starts – all on city tracks, all but the first as a black-type race – won’t be emulated in my lifetime. Yet for the story of Black Caviar to keep impressing future generations of Australians, she may need to produce some outstanding descendants of her own.
So we hold our breath for this new filly foal by Exceed and Excel from Black Caviar. The wise old heads will warn you that champion mares often fail to produce champion progeny. More often than not, top-selling colts and fillies in yearling sales with the best pedigrees have failed to live up to their prices.
But there are exceptions and I have a feeling that sooner or later Black Caviar will produce a great son or daughter.
The inspiration is Wakeful, a mare who raced in Sydney and Melbourne more than 110 years ago. In an age when historic race names change as frequently as the weather in Cup Week, the Victoria Racing Club has retained what is always called ‘the time-honoured Wakeful Stakes’ on Derby Day as the major lead-up to the Oaks.
Wakeful is still the best mare ever to have raced in Australia.
Her versatility and courage are the key to this verdict. Her Group 1 equivalent victories extended from an Oakleigh Plate (5.5 furlongs or 1100 metres) at Caulfield, a Newmarket Handicap at Flemington and a Doncaster Handicap at Randwick through to three weight-for-age Melbourne Stakes (now Mackinnon Stakes) and a two-mile Sydney Cup where she carried the record weight for a mare.
In her heyday around 1900-03 they used to run flat races up to three miles (4800 metres). Wakeful won the three-mile Champion Stakes at Flemington.
Like other champions, Wakeful just missed winning a Melbourne Cup. I think of Carnage (1893), Chicquita (1950), Gunsynd (1972) and Kingston Town (1982) when I say this.
It was the first Tuesday of November 1903, her final start, and she was asked to carry 10 stone (63.5 kilograms). Even after winning two Melbourne Cups, Makybe Diva shouldered 58 kilograms in her 2005 triumph, which gives you some idea of Wakeful’s quality.
Wakeful went to the front too early, at least 800 metres from home. The three-year-old Lord Cardigan (with 21.8 kilos less on his back) caught her in the final strides. In the grandstands, so they reported, grown men wept.
Lord Cardigan was a top-class horse who nearly won the Melbourne Cup again the following year.
Racing at this level was no less competitive in 1903 than it is in 2014. Wakeful, like Black Caviar, recorded 25 wins but was defeated several times in her career. Even so, in 44 starts she was unplaced only three times. Her twelve second-placings included a Caulfield Cup.
A handful of marvellous mares have won more races in Australasia, namely Desert Gold and Gladsome in the early days, sprinter Wenona Girl in the early 1960s, and in more recent memory, Sunline.
None could match the versatility of Wakeful. And none has produced a Melbourne Cup winner. Wakeful did.
Wakeful’s son Night Watch won the Melbourne Cup sixteen years after his mother’s brave defeat. Wakeful’s mother was Insomnia, and there was something of a vigil when Night Watch won the Cup. The Great War had been raging for more than four years. The Cup was run on 5th November 1918, six days before the Armistice was signed.
The only other Melbourne Cup place-getting mare to produce a Melbourne Cup winner was Musidora whose daughter Briseis won the race in 1876 – in the same week as taking out the Derby and the Oaks!
And the 1950 runner-up Chicquita, whom I mentioned, was mated with the winner Comic Court. Their offspring, Comicquita, took after his mother rather than the sire, in finishing second to Even Stevens in 1962.
Wakeful’s versatility was reflected in her progeny. Another son, Blairgour, won the Oakleigh Plate and the Futurity Stakes at Caulfield. Mind you, there were eight other foals of Wakeful whom historical analyst Peter Pring classified as moderate, mediocre or poor. Maybe it was the fault of the dads.
Even so there are precedents for Black Caviar to produce a champion. Not a Cup winner, surely, but a speedster. We know that spring – especially in Melbourne – throws us thunderstorms, grey clouds and cold showers as well as blossom and blue skies. But for now with a new foal on the ground, the sun is shining.