Caviar to be dish of the day
The Australian superstar is putting a 21-race unbeaten record on the line by flying in to Royal Ascot – but if it's a risk, her presence contributes to a vintage week, says Chris McGrath
Even before she squeezes her giant frame into the starting stalls at Royal Ascot today – even, in fact, if she ends up surrendering her own immaculate record – Black Caviar has already surpassed the apparently unmatchable Frankel in at least one respect.
For while Frankel began this meeting with his most astounding performance yet, his trainer seems reluctant to explore the full reach of his brilliance. Black Caviar, in contrast, has been flown round the world to take on the best of another continent, on their own turf and in their own season. If she can extend her unbeaten sequence to 22 in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, she will not need to match the epoch-making emphasis of the home champion's superiority to merit a share of top billing when future generations reflect enviously on a vintage week.
No doubt Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel's trainer, views Black Caviar's adventure as looking for trouble. Whenever anyone suggests he might take Frankel to the Breeders' Cup, he grimaces in distaste. "We've got all the races we need here," he says. "Why drag him halfway round the world?" Yet the colt's owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah, adores the Breeders' Cup and even named his champion after the late American trainer, Bobby Frankel, who gave him many treasured moments there.
Listen to the verdict of Black Caviar's trainer. "We all saw the best local horse win here on Tuesday," Peter Moody said. "But he's never going to leave the UK – they'll never take him away from home. This mare's owners have had the balls to put her on a plane and travel all the way here. That is something phenomenal. Imagine having something this good and sharing it with the rest of the world."
Moody himself does not always sound convinced that they are doing the right thing. "It's strange that we have to travel all this way to race inferior opposition for inferior prize money so she can stamp her greatness," he says. "There's no doubt it is a massive risk, for little gain."
It is hard to disagree with a syllable of all that. Some may consider it presumptuous to talk of "inferior opposition", when only the most tenuous strands can tie together the form of different hemispheres. Since Choisir's pioneering trip here nine years ago, however, the indigenous sprinters have been repeatedly shown up as lacking the brio apparently bred or learnt in other racing environments. It is a very different story over longer distances, but the humbling reality is that many of the horses Black Caviar has been routinely pummelling Down Under might themselves be too quick for the best sprinters in Britain.
To the layman, perhaps, her very presence may seem outlandish. But racing nowadays is a game without frontiers. Dermot Weld, the pioneering Irish trainer who became the first European to export the Melbourne Cup, was among the first to harness a sense of adventure to better science. He realised that hydration was the key, and how to read the hidden stress of travel. Intercontinental shipping of thoroughbreds has since become a routine business, and the other big sprint at this meeting has already been claimed for Hong Kong. But Moody has taken extra precautions with Black Caviar, who was fitted out with a bespoke lycra compression suit for her 30-hour journey, via Singapore and Sharjah, earlier this month.
True, Moody's assessment of "massive risk" is hardly reflected in the odds. Compared with Frankel, who had already thrashed the second favourite four times, Black Caviar would seem a rather more precarious prospect. Moody certainly seems pleased with the way she has absorbed her journey and is confident she will handle any further deterioration in conditions. But most punters would sooner seek an equivalent dividend from an each-way bet, to make the podium behind Black Caviar, with the outside possibility of exploiting any failure to import her Southern Hemisphere brilliance.
The most eligible candidates for this role are Moonlight Cloud, the top-class French raider, and Society Rock, who has shown his relish for this track by finishing second and first in the last two runnings.
Whatever happens, Black Caviar is not the only show in town. Her connections will recognise the two horses who shared a photo for the Melbourne Cup last year, in Dunaden and Red Cadeaux, in the Hardwicke Stakes. An increasing number of Sir Michael Stoute's eggs, meanwhile, seem to be clustered in Sea Moon's basket, lending a make-or-break look to this competitive race. Yet the big danger could lurk in his own stable, Fiorente (3.05) having run over an inadequate trip last time and remaining entitled to build on last season's immense promise now he is tried in cheekpieces.
Jim Bolger has already saddled one impressive juvenile winner here this week, and could have yet another star in the making in Move To Strike (2.30). He won a maiden at The Curragh by no fewer than nine lengths and youngsters from this stable can get on to a fairly inexorable roll.
The Wokingham Handicap may look as bewildering as ever, with those most obviously coming to the boil including Waffle, back on the same mark as when thwarted only by the classy Deacon Blue in this race last year. But everything will fall into place sooner rather than later with Elusivity (4.25), who should enjoy the return to softer ground and slightly less demanding company.
Aidan O'Brien has had a mixed week, but can round off with a winner if Harrison's Cave (5.00) finally pieces together the fragments of promise he has disclosed on various occasions. He certainly has more ability than this rating.
O'Brien's son, Joseph, rides for Paul Nicholls in the Queen Alexandra Stakes, the marathon that traditionally brings down the curtain on the meeting. But another champion jumps trainer makes it seem worth playing up Tuesday's winnings from Simenon (5.35), so long as that runaway win did not leave him short of fuel. Mind you, they have to go down the straight twice in this race – so we can only hope that Black Caviar hasn't charred it beyond repair.
Caviar: Facts In Figures
Wins for Black Caviar in 21 career starts – a record
Racing weight in kilos of the mare, even outweighing retired Gold Cup winner Denman
Black Caviar's aggregate winning distance of 70 lengths is equivalent to 13 London buses
Her fastest 200-metre split is 9.98 seconds, with a top speed of 44.83mph
Chris McGrath's Nap
Elusivity (4.25 Ascot)
Harrison's Cave (5.00 Ascot)
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