Black Caviar, "the Wonder from Down Under", travelled more than 11,000 miles to win yesterday by only a nose.
The Australian superstar racehorse, a contender for the title of the fastest horse in the world, continued a remarkable unbeaten streak when she secured a dramatically narrow 22nd consecutive career victory in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The pre-race odds-on favourite gave the 80,000 people watching at the race course, together with millions more following on television, palpitations as she appeared to ease off coming up to the finishing post and was nearly caught by challengers including Moonlight Cloud, which was just beaten to the post.
Black Caviar's jockey, Luke Nolen, blamed himself rather than his mount. "I probably just underestimated the testing track at Ascot," Nolen said. "They are going to talk more about my brain fart than her fantastic performance. Hopefully, my performance hasn't overshadowed what was a great effort by the whole team."
Observers wondered whether the narrowness of the victory signalled that her first appearance outside of Australia might well be her last. Her trainer, Peter Moody, suggested his six-year-old mare had not travelled as well as he had hoped or expected. "We got away with it," Moody said. "You only have to win by a quarter of an inch. She got the job done. We are more concerned about her next race than we are about the margin."
He said they would assess her back in Australia. "Every start now, I'm prepared to accept it could be her last run. If she is as tired and worn out when she gets home to Australia as she is today, then she may have run for the last time. I wouldn't hesitate in any way, shape or form to retire her. She has nothing left to prove."
Racing fans around the world would be disappointed at any prospect of retirement. Many still hope they will see Black Caviar test the mettle of the British-trained Frankel – who also has a claim to the title of the world's fastest sprinter.
Observers hoped the unbeaten Australian horse might stay on in the UK after yesterday's race, increasing the possibility that two of greatest champions in flat racing history – Frankel won at Royal Ascot on Tuesday – would go head to head. The prospect of such an exciting contest loomed larger last week when it was reported that wealthy supporters of the sport of kings were trying to raise a cash prize too temptingly large for the Australian champion's owners to resist. Mr Moody appeared to put paid to such hopes when he confirmed they were returning down under. "I won't put the cart before the horse. We will get her home first, see how she is. I'd love to race her in the spring."
The mare is hugely popular in Australia where she is the most famous race horse since the legendary Phar Lap in the 1930s, and is talked of as the nation's greatest sporting legend since the cricketer Don Bradman. The Royal Ascot crowd yesterday was swelled by more than 7,000 of her countrymen and women, many dressed in the horse's racing colours of salmon and black spots.
Graham Sharpe, of the bookmakers William Hill, said: "We may have lost a bit on Black Caviar, but at that price, it is not a horse that many punters would have bet on. It was a great race for horse racing. There may be some people who are keeping their bet slips as souvenirs, rather than cashing them in."
Born: 18 August 2006
Pedigree: Sire: Bel Esprit (Aus). Dam: Helsinge (Aus)
Height: 16.2 hands
Trainer: Peter Moody
Jockey: Luke Nolen
Aggregate winning distance: 70 lengths
Fastest 200m time: 9.98 seconds,
Timeform rating: 136
Newmarket Handicap (2011);
Lightning Stakes (2011, 2012);
Patinack Farm Classic (2010, 2011);
T J Smith Stakes (2011);
William Reid Stakes (2011);
MRC C F Orr Stakes (2012);
Australia Stakes (2010, 2012);
Schillaci Stakes (2010, 2011);
Schweppes Stakes (2010, 2011);
Danehill Stakes (2009);
Career prize money: £3.6m
Born: 11 February 2008
Pedigree: Sire: Galileo (Ireland); Dam: Kind (Ireland)
Height: 16.1 hands
Owner and breeder: Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
Trainer: Sir Henry Cecil
Jockey: Tom Queally
Aggregate winning distance: 45.5 lengths
Timeform rating: 147
Major wins: Queen Anne Stakes (2012); Lockinge Stakes (2012);
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (2011);
Sussex Stakes (2011); St. James's Palace Stakes (2011); 2,000 Guineas (2011); Dewhurst Stakes (2010); Royal Lodge Stakes (2010)
Career prize money: £1.4m