Australia has produced some of the finest champions in horse racing history, from Carbine to Pharlap and Kingston Town, the greats have spanned the centuries, conquering challenges and climbing heights of highest honor Yet sometimes racing from the great “down under” seems to be largely overlooked by the rest of the world and especially the United States where traditional dirt racing is the mainstay. Sure, we hear about the Group 1 Melbourne Cup because it takes second place only to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as the world’s most prestigious grass race, but aside from that there really is no easy-to-come-by source of information about their current runners like there are for European and American horses. This first came to my attention late last year when the name Black Caviar kept popping up in racing discussions. Australia’s undefeated phenom of a race mare was proving untouchable against the best of both sexes in Australia and I was having trouble finding so much as a full blown article covering one of her victories. The subject came to my attention once again after HRN released their All-Time Greatest Filly and Mare rankings this past weekend and I spotted a comment from a user stating the exact same sentiments I was harboring; “how can you rate a mare you barely know when there isn’t any information on her?”
So I decided I’d had enough of the table scraps and wanted the full dish about this incredibly talented mare; appetizer, entrée, desert and all. I hope you will enjoy reading this as much I enjoyed researching it, Black Caviar is easily one of the most gifted horses in modern history. After compiling all the facts and stats there is little doubt in my mind that Black Caviar has already earned herself a spot among racing’s all time greats.
Black Caviar was foaled on August 18, 2006 at Swettenham Stud in Australia. She is out of the unraced mare Helsinge(AUS) and is the daughter of Bel Espirit, son of 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr.1) winner Royal Academy(USA). She captured her first Trial at 800 Meters on March 30th, 2009, winning by five lengths with jockey Luke Nolen up. Next she took her race debut by another five lengths in the 1000 Meter Cromwell Handicap and coasted home by six for her first stakes win in the 1200 Meter Blue Sapphire Stakes.
Freshened for sixteen weeks, Black Caviar was returned to the races on August 22nd as a three-year-old and easily won by four lengths to bring her record to three wins in three starts. Next up trainer Peter Moody decided his charge was ready for a bigger challenge and entered her in the Group 2 Danehill Stakes on September 5th where she once again proved her prowess. After stumbling at the start and sustaining an injury to her chest, the sophomore filly quickly recovered her footing and blazed her way across the finish line, winning for fun. Given a good twenty weeks to recover from her injury, Black Caviar returned to the races on January 22nd 2010 and claimed victory in the Australia Stakes (G2) against older horses, winning by more than two lengths for her fifth win. Now she was beginning to turn heads on a national stage. But once again the talented filly’s plans were put on a temporary hold when a leg injury was discovered and she was scratched from the February 13th William Reid Stakes (G1).
Given almost eight months to fully recuperate, Black Caviar returned on September 20th to win an 800 meter trial over a field of fourteen, setting her up perfectly for a competitive run in the October 9th Schillaci Stakes (G2). She proved far more than just competitive in the Schillaci, running off to a 2 ½ length victory in the 1000 meter test for the first race of her four-year-old campaign. The Schweppes Stakes (G2) came two weeks later and this time Black Caviar’s reputation preceded her as she went off the heavy favorite at odds of 1.80. Seven-year-old mare Hot Danish went off the second favorite and presented the biggest threat, riding a string of seven consecutive victories into the Schweppes. It proved one of Black Caviar’s most dominating and eye-opening wins to date when she blew the Schweppes field out of the water, winning by more than five lengths in a canter and snapping Hot Danish’s seven race win streak in half. Two weeks later she was back again, this time taking the Group 1 Patinack Farm Classic. Regular jockey Luke Nolen, riding out a suspension, was replaced by Ben Melham for the race. Black Caviar and Melham both passed a milestone in the Patinack as the pair won by four lengths for her eight consecutive win, individually posting their first wins in a Group 1 and against a very strong field that included the highly regarded sprinter Hay List as well as Group 1 winners Melito, Star Witness and All Silent.
Given another rest period of 15 weeks the iron mare returned to the track with a stunning victory in the Lightning Stakes (G1). Hay List once again tackled the superstar and finished second to the gifted mare for the second time in a row, more than three lengths behind at the wire. At the break Black Caviar with Luke Nolen up once again sat just off pacesetting Warm Love with Hay List sitting close behind in third. At the 300 meter mark Black Caviar blew past Warm Love and in the blink of an eye had opened up a five length lead. Hay List ran his guts out in second, two lengths ahead of the field while Nolen eased up his mare with more than 100 meters to go, coasting home with disdainful ease, winning by more than three lengths. It was win number nine in the bag and the Moody trainee had yet to be tested.
Her next start came one month later on March 12th in the Newmarket Handicap (G1), the most famous sprint race in the country, and this time the remarkable mare was asked to carry 58kg (approximately 127.5 lbs.). It was the highest impost ever assigned a female racehorse in the prestigious event but that wasn’t about to stop Black Caviar. In the finest performance of her spectacular career, Black Caviar confronted 2009-2010 champion two-year-old filly Crystal Lilly on the front end and then took over with a rush and exploded to a five length lead with only 100 meters to go in the race. Once again Nolen geared his filly down before the wire, winning by three lengths over Crystal Lilly. She went to post as the shortest favorite in 137 years and carried the highest weight since Shaftesbury Avenue won in 1991, twenty years ago.
[Black Caviar currently ranks an absurdly low #136 HRN's All-Time Greatest Female rankings page]
On March 25th the super-mare made her eleventh lifetime start in the William Reid Stakes (G1), once again demolishing the field and defeating Crystal Lilly after spurting away from the field off the turn and finishing under wraps by Nolen, two lengths the best. It was the fourth straight Group 1 win for the daughter of Bel Espirit and six days later on March 31st Black Caviar became the first Australian horse in history to be ranked the #1 horse in the world when the World Thoroughbred Rankings were released. She also became the highest rated sprinter since the rankings first started in 2002, gaining a 130 mark and beating out former sprinter Oasis Dream who ranked 125 in 2003. It was her thrilling Newmarket Handicap victory that earned her highest honors in the World Thoroughbred Rankings as the highest rated victory by any horse in the world for six month period beginning on October 1, 2010 and ending March 27, 2011. In other words she ranked higher than any winner of the Breeders’ Cup and Dubai Racing Festival races and any other prestigious event including the Prix de le Arch de Triumphe.
Two weeks after the William Reid Stakes Black Caviar was once again in action, this time chasing her twelfth straight win in the T J Smith Stakes (G1) and once again facing Hay List. At the break Black Caviar missed a beat, breaking uncomfortably while Hay List surged to the lead and strung the field out within the first 100 meters. Black Caviar quickly positioned herself in third, about two lengths from the lead just behind Crystal Slipped in second. As the field came off the turn Hay List spurted three lengths clear of the field and five lengths clear of Black Caviar who appeared to be struggling to close the gap. Down the stretch she picked away at the lead, inch by inch without showing the explosive kick demonstrated in her last eleven starts. More than halfway to the wire Black Caviar was two lengths behind Hay List and it finally happened; with a flick of her tail the undefeated filly swooped down upon Hay List and passed him like a pole standing still, opening up two lengths to roars of delight from the crowd and finally waltzing across the line 2 ¾ lengths in front. Glyn Schofield, jockey of Hay List, said after the race, “I could hear her coming, the she hit overdrive and I could see her going.”
After her shining triumph in the T J Smith Stakes Black Caviar was given a 5 week break before her thirteenth career race and sixth consecutive start in a Group 1 race when she was entered to run in the BTC Cup (G1). Hay List went post ward to challenge the great sprinter as the greatest threat yet again and once again proved no match. Striking the lead off the turn Hay List got the jump on Black Caviar for the second straight time when she came off the turn awkwardly and had to be straightened for the run by Nolen. Once she had the target in her sights it was just a hand ride to the wire and another easy two length victory. Thirteen wins from thirteen starts and now a living legend, Black Caviar will next attempt to equal one of the longest standing records in Australian racing history when she goes for her fourteenth straight win in her next start, a feat that would equal the great Phar Lap’s achievement from the 1930’s.
Despite being the world’s number one ranked thoroughbred racehorse, Black Caviar, who is known affectionately as Nelly around the barn, is shown no special treatment according to trainer Peter Moody. She’s just another one of the horses in the daily routine, given a bath, rubdown, breakfast with an egg, a massage and perhaps a swim before settling back into her stall by midmorning. There’s no doubt we are witnessing one of the greatest fillies of all time in Australian horse racing history but if Black Caviar is afforded the chance to strut her stuff across the globe she may very well end up one of the greatest of all time bar none.
Photo Courtesy of Darren Tindale