It was the race the world had been waiting for. For over a year, the racing pundits had been clamouring to see the unbeaten Australian sprint champion, Black Caviar, take on sprinters outside of her home country. Her owners and trainer finally relented and announced that the five-year-old mare would travel to England to contest the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes over Ascot’s testing 1200m.
The race the world was waiting for, picture Liesl King
The media hype started almost immediately, despite the mare still having a domestic program to complete. With the hype came the speculation. Was she as good as they said, would she actually travel and could she win?
Around the world opinions were offered and her races were dissected. Through it all the mare kept winning, eventually taking her unbeaten record to a magical 21 in Adelaide. The time had come to leave her familiar territory and undertake the 30 hour flight halfway around the globe.
Again it all played out in the full glare of the media. Nelly, as she is known at home, had a personal compression suit made in fashionable blue, with her name on the one side and Nelly on the other.
It was time to travel. On the 6th of June, Black Caviar departed from Melbourne enroute to Heathrow with scheduled stops in Singapore and Sharjah. Her progress was tracked all across Australia and her fans breathed a sigh of relief when the mare finally touched down safely. A trip by horse transporter to Abingdon Place in Newmarket and Nelly could finally lie down and rest.
The media hype surrounding Black Caviar, picture Liesl King
Still the media continued to follow her every step. Every workout was faithfully recorded and broadcast around the world. Organised trips of every shape and size, offered Australians the chance to see their darling take on the might of the European sprinters and Royal Ascot braced itself for an invasion of over 5000 Australians.
By the time raceday finally dawned, there was very little about Nelly that was not known and the British public had been swept up in Black Caviar fever. In the pre-parade ring there wasn’t space for a mouse, with the crowd standing ten deep around the outside. Even Frankel did not garner such a reception.
The pre-parade ring, packed to the hilt, picture Liesl King
“Where is she?” “Is that her?” was the constant refrain. They were there to see one horse and one horse only. When Black Caviar finally emerged, cameras appeared out of handbags and pockets as everybody wanted to be part of the moment.
When the bugle sounded for the jockeys to mount the crowd were already at dangerous proportions along the running rail. Australian flags, kangaroos and a sea of salmon and pink greeted Luke Nolan as he emerged from the tunnel to trot down to the start.
Black Caviar trotting to the start, picture Liesl King
The race started with a roar and ended with a roar. Black Caviar jumped from barrier fifteen and raced up the standside rail. But for racegoers familiar with her style, it was clear a long way out that something was terribly amiss.
Gone was the mare, racing with ears pricked, tugging Nolan along, demanding to be allowed just a little bit more rein. Despite racing up with the leaders, Black Caviar seemed ordinary, holding off challengers but not gaining an inch either.
Ascot, Australia and the late night diehards in Federation Square back home in Melbourne held their collective breath. Was the fairytale finally going to end, in this far corner of the world? The French challenger Moonlight Cloud was gaining with every stride and the great black mare appeared to have no more to offer.
Black Caviar lunges for the line, picture Liesl King
There is however something that separates the truly great from the ordinary. Champions have the heart and the courage to get up off the floor, even when all hope seems lost, to throw themselves back into the fray and to keep fighting to the end.
Moody later admitted that he was worried from half way out when he saw by the way she was travelling, that it was not the mare he knew. Nolan confirmed that he “truly shat himself” when he realised that the great engine that he was so familiar with, had shut down.
Yet despite travelling half way round the world, despite having the worst race of her life, despite not being on her game, the great black mare they call Nelly did not give up. She may have been exhausted, but in the manner of a true champion, she picked herself up and threw herself at the line.
A first there was a stunned silence as the crowd realised that it may not have been enough. Moonlight Cloud was in front a stride after the line, did she beat her? But as the race replayed in slow motion across the big screen, the roar was deafening as a black nose crossed the line first.
Guts, determination and the heart of a champion, Black Caviar has it all and perhaps in the closest race of her career, she has shown us her true greatness.
Black Caviar, picture Liesl King