Sunday 22 October 2017

black magic: caviar survives scare

Marcus Armytage

The history books will show Black Caviar came 10,000 miles, conquered Royal Ascot and went home, possibly into retirement, with her unbeaten record still unblemished standing at 22 wins from 22 starts and having been patted by Queen Elizabeth in the winner's enclosure.

But that does not begin to tell the story of the drama of yesterday's Diamond Jubilee Stakes after jockey Luke Nolen took it too easy on the big mare in the final furlong, stopped riding in the belief he was home and hosed, and only won by flapping the reins in desperation in the last yards.

Around him the two French sprinters Moonlight Cloud and Restiadargent bore down on her as they scented blood and the impossible. The 'wonder' was a head and a neck away from being the blunder from Down Under and it is to Black Caviar's credit that she stuck her long neck out and averted what would have been regarded as one of the most public, and costly, riding errors in racing history.

Skin of teeth was not quite how it was meant to be for the mare backed into 1/6 in what bookmakers described as a worldwide gamble and most traded horse in the 12-year history of Betfair.

"I underestimated the stiffness of the six furlongs here," said an admirably frank Nolen who may well have had to ask for political asylum had the photo gone the other way.

"I let her idle, that big engine shut down and I duly s**t myself. I thought she'd coast but when I relaxed she came right back under me. It took me by surprise. She nearly carted me in Newmarket earlier in the week but she didn't bring that to the races with her."

The stewards did have a word with him later, merely to remind him of his responsibilities, but he broke no rules. Back home a similar ride would have earned him a big fine and suspension of a fortnight -- and that's just for winning.

Peter Moody, a great trainer, saw some humour in the situation. "Never in doubt," he muttered as he walked into the press conference which had taken on the solemn air of the forensic post-mortem in a Sunday night murder-mystery.

"She never travelled as strongly as she normally does and I had concerns half a mile out. I think Luke was looking after her. I thought she was always in control but she didn't travel as cleanly as I thought she would with her ears pricked. You've seen her race at her lowest ebb for 10 or 12 races.

"It was guts, grit and determination which got her home but I'm disappointed you didn't see how good she is. I think I saw the finest performance I've ever seen on a racecourse on Tuesday (Frankel), and had I seen her here last year I think I'd have been saying the same thing.

"Whether it's by quarter of an inch or quarter of a furlong they are not going to give us any more prize money. She's had a long season followed by a long trip and the owners are to be congratulated.

"If she's tired and worn out when she gets home it could have been her last run.

"We're getting nearer the end rather than the start and she's not getting any better -- she's a six year-old by our time, five by yours, but I'm so proud of her."

It is a memorable race that will be long talked about on both sides of the world.

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