THE racing world is coming to terms with a moment of madness that almost cost the super mare Black Caviar victory on her biggest stage, England’s Royal Ascot.
A rookie’s mistake by jockey Luke Nolen, in which he stopped riding close to the finish, almost denied her the trophy.
In one of racing’s most heart-stopping wins, Black Caviar put in a final burst and put her head down in the last few strides after she had been challenged by Midnight Cloud. A photo-finish showed she won by a nostril.
Nolen admitted he had lost the plot. “I let her idle through the last 200 [metres],” he said, “and I underestimated just how stiff a track this straight six furlongs is, and also the opposition. And I shit myself duly. And I’m afraid my brain-fade might be talked about more than this mare’s fantastic effort.”
But Nolen felt that Black Caviar had not raced to her best either. “She wasn’t taking me to the line. I had to ask her to find it. Yes, I was at fault, but when I relaxed on her – I thought I’d done enough, and that’s an error every apprentice is taught not to do, and I got away with it – that big engine seemed to shut right down.
“I tried to get her going again in the last strides and it was only her determination when the other horses came to her that kept her in front. She just didn’t bring to the races today what she usually can.”
As she recovered from her exertions, many fans were left asking what was next for the six year-old. Plans to race again in England were quickly abandoned and trainer Peter Moody also raised the possibility that Saturday’s race may have been her last.
Does it matter that she didn’t dominate the field with her usual vigour?
It has left Nolen man of the hour for all the wrong reasons. The Times called Nolan’s misjudgment “calamitous”; the Daily Mail used both “calamitous” and “schoolboy howler”.
Apparently stewards did speak to Nolen after the race to remind him of his responsibilities but he broke no rules.
There had been great expectations of Black Caviar, who had received an unusually affectionate welcome at Ascot. Many of the estimated 7000 Australians in the 70,000-strong crowd had been issued with “Go Black Caviar” placards and wore ties or caps in her colours; one baby held up at the racetrack fence was dressed entirely in salmon pink with black spots.
When she appeared in the pre-parade ring, even trainers not linked to her jostled for a look.
Moody said the race was always going to be the greatest risk of her career as it came at the end of a long season and a long overseas trip but “whether she wins by a quarter of an inch or a quarter of a furlong it’s still a win, and they’re not going to give us any more prizemoney.
“She didn’t let us down. She’s done Australia proud, and she’s still undefeated.”First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.