Sport Horse Racing

Monday 25 September 2017

Nelly on board for Royal parade

Royal Ascot have managed to stage a massive coup by enticing Black Caviar to run, writes Ian McClean

The acres of coverage preceding the Wonder from Down Under Black Caviar's appearance in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot next Saturday has become too much for some people.

Champion jockey-elect Ryan Moore, often reticent at times when he shouldn't be, is uncharacteristically chippy in his Betfair column about the attention afforded the unbeaten mare: "I honestly feel like the coverage is in danger of boring people to death before the meeting has even begun; there have been pages of the stuff daily on the horse, it is overkill and I can't bring myself to read it."

So if you're Ryan Moore -- look away now.

What has perhaps been smothered by the blanket coverage of the super-mare is the blue-chip status afforded to Royal Ascot around the world and, furthermore, what an improbably magnificent coup Ascot's PR team has orchestrated with the owners of Black Caviar in persuading them to travel 11,000 miles to the Berkshire course. Even Black Caviar's trainer Peter Moody harbours his doubts.

"It is strange that we have to travel three-quarters of the way around the world to race inferior opposition for inferior prize money so she can stamp her greatness," he told The Australian. "That does not make a lot of sense to me. Horses of her ilk do not normally go out of their comfort zone. I think the owners are to be congratulated for bringing her here and risking her great record. There is no doubt it is a massive risk for her to come here, for little gain. Financially, it's not a wise decision.

"To be honest, as I came closer I got a little negative and wondered if it would all be worth it. There is no need to travel to prove her greatness, but we are. We are parochial Aussies who roll up our sleeves and have a go."

In Australia, Black Caviar has steadily become more of a brand than a racehorse. The strength of that brand at home is such that at least one prestigious football game and a Grand Slam tennis match have been interrupted on her behalf.

But brands need to be carefully preserved -- 21 wins from 21 starts means there is more to lose every time she steps onto the track. She flew to the UK in a specially-designed compression suit and is monitored constantly.

Her first exercise appearance on Newmarket's Al Bahathri gallop took place at 4.30am to avoid undue media scrutiny.

'Nelly', as she is affectionately known in the yard, still managed to attract 11 individual international TV crews for what was simply a light routine morning breeze-up. Even the Silver Ring at Ascot next Saturday has sold out in anticipation reflecting chief executive Charles Barnett's observation that "more or less the whole of the Antipodeans in London are coming". Yes, and the rest.

Defeat for Black Caviar would be a massive anti-climax. She has started odds-on in every race she has contested since her racecourse debut in spite of the fact that in her last 15 starts she has competed against Group One or multiple Group One winners. In her last 11 outings her longest SP has been 1/7 (her shortest 1/33). Consequently, there are many money-buyers who see her current Diamond Jubilee odds of 1/3 as a gift.

If she is to succumb, what are the most likely scenarios to cause it?

The weather is probably the biggest single factor at this stage. In all her 21 victories she has never raced on ground worse than good-to-soft. Conditions at Ascot are currently soft all round and who knows what level of rain we are likely to encounter in the next week?

The draw may become a factor in a big field. At present, there are 31 horses left in Saturday's feature. If we have a large-size field with a split and significant draw bias things could conceivably conspire against her.

Worryingly for the opposition, Moody reckons that his biggest concern for her defeat is now behind her -- the travel. Declaring himself delighted with her physical condition, he seems far less fazed by track, conditions or opposition now she's arrived. However, she (unlike her opponents) is eight races into her 2012 campaign and has spent 33 hours travelling 11,000 miles with only 10 days to acclimatise before racing. Despite any outward appearances, no one will know until the day what the real impact is.

Although not a direct parallel, Pilsudski got beaten at Royal Ascot off a mark of just 82. And Bankable got beaten (off 99) in spite of having 20lb in hand in the 2008 Hunt Cup. The first four home that day were drawn 27-30-26-25. He finished fifth -- from stall six.

Win or lose for Black Caviar, the biggest winner of all is racing.

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