Glen the key to Caviar start
22 Jun 2012 | In the winner’s circle, trainers invariably stress that victory has been a team effort, with many jigsaw pieces slotting together. The final one needed to complete the Black Caviar picture arrived in Britain on Sunday; stalls handler Glen Darrington has been part of her support team since she was a two-year-old, and will be a familiar presence to her as she lines up on Saturday to defend her unbeaten record in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Black Caviar and Luke Nolan, picture Quentin Lang, quentinjlang.com
Former jockey Darrington, 41, born in Horsham, Victoria, is Melbourne-based. The son of a trainer, he was brought up around horses and rode successfully until his weight became a problem. “I rode for David Hayes and in a Melbourne Cup,” he said, “and then after I stopped riding I did a plumbing course, and had my own business for a couple of years. But the love of the horse drew me back towards racing.”
Nine years ago Darrington became a barrier attendant - the Australian term for stalls handler - for Racing Victoria, and is now one of the profession’s senior men, with a team under him, working not only at the metropolitan tracks but also country meetings.
Darrington first met Black Caviar at a jump-out - a practice start session - at Caulfield racecourse, where she is trained by Peter Moody. “I’m good mate of her jockey Luke Nolen,” he said, “and at the jump-out one morning he said I’d better get hold of this one he was on, as she could be a bit funny. Sure enough, she got a bit agitated and she was like that right through to her fourth start. I was with her the whole time, through the jump-outs when she was learning and to her races, and Peter and Luke, with their attention to detail, decided I’d better be there from then on.
“I lead her in, then I climb up and I’m by her head, pacifying her, trying to take her mind off things, chatting to her and patting her. Away from the races, she’s got the most wonderful temperament any horse could have, a gentle giant. But when it comes to her job, in the gates she can get agitated. In her first big win [the Danehill Stakes at Flemington], she tried to anticipate the start and when she jumped out she was down on her nose and pulled all her chest muscles, and still won.”
A barrier blanket - known here as a Monty Roberts blanket - was then introduced as part of Black Caviar’s equipment. The blanket, which covers the hindquarters, is attached to the stalls after entry and left behind when the horse jumps out. It prevents direct contact with the structure of the stall and can have a soothing effect. She has had one specially made for her British adventure.
“We just wanted to slow her down,” said Darrington, “let her take her time. We weren’t worried if she missed the break, just as long as she stepped away from the gates cleanly we were happy. What we didn’t want was her going down on her head again and doing herself damage. That half-length or whatever she’d give away didn’t matter, she’d win anyway, she’s too good.”
Darrington has been with Black Caviar, known as Nelly at home, for all bar two of her 21 starts, and 21 victories, to date. “I missed her twice when she was in Sydney and Brisbane,” he said, “and she was particularly agitated, even reared in the stall once. So that was it, Luke and Peter said we want Glen there, wherever she is. If a system works, you don’t change it.”
Two starts ago, Black Caviar went to Morphettville, Adelaide, for the first time. “She didn’t seem quite herself that day, she was particularly agitated, not really our Nelly. And if I hadn’t been there with her, she’d have been out through the front of the barriers for sure. My going to England to be with her had always been in our minds, but after that it was a certainty. And I thank the English authorities for allowing it to happen as I’m not sure it would have done if the positions were reversed. We Australians like to think we do things best and don’t need outsiders - but perhaps if it was Frankel we’d make allowances too.”
Darrington, whose wife Vivienne has come to Britain with him on a trip facilitated by Sportsbet.com, Paddy Power’s Australian arm, was at Ascot on Tuesday to see Frankel win the Queen Anne Stakes and take his own unbeaten run to 11. “Black Caviar is very intelligent,” he said, “with a certain presence and confidence about her, pride in herself without arrogance. And on the way back from Ascot to Newmarket Luke and I were talking about Frankel. We agreed that he’s not too much different to her.”
On Saturday, Darrington will be waiting for Black Caviar at the stalls, her comfort blanket in a foreign environment. “The stalls themselves are the same as in Australia,” he said, “so I’ll be familiar with them,and so will she. The routine will be the same, I’ll meet her, put her blanket on, lead her in, and climb up in the stall. I’ll be telling her she’s a good girl, and a beautiful girl. I’ll tell Luke good luck buddy. And away she’ll go. And I’m pretty sure the result will be the same as it always has been.”
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