Apr 2013

Black Caviar Retired. Australia Mourns.

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Immeasurable, in that way that valuable things are, like a rare diamond that’s worth so many numbers you don’t even ask. She was more than a thoroughbred, a racehorse or a drawcard. She was the Phar Lap era revisited, greatness turned on its head then turned inside out. Then, moments before 3pm yesterday, she was done. Black Caviar was retired.

She hadn’t left me that quiet since she fell in at Royal Ascot. Her win in Saturday’s TJ Smith had put Sydney in a spin, and I was out and about in it, listening to a city talk about a racehorse. That’s right, a racehorse. Not a politician or a football player, or some fool crying on My Kitchen Rules. A racehorse that had commanded national television, had pulling power like no celebrity in the country. A champion, yes, but a mere horse none the less. So imagine a nation’s struggle at the news that the Caviar gold was no more, that the wonder horse had pulled up for the last time. What could you say? Very little. So I tweeted. ‘A nation not quite ready to let go. Black Caviar retired, Australia mourns. How we’ll miss her.’

I will miss her. In February I sat pinned to my couch to watch the Lightning Stakes. Textbook, about as textbook as it gets in horse racing. Black Caviar pinged from the Flemington gates that afternoon and bounced to a facile two-length victory, her first run since Ascot, chalking 23 for 23, and on rolled the wagon. I felt sorry for journalists, who must have sat at their desks 55.42 seconds later wondering how the hell they were going to write about this one with any originality. Still, their efforts weren’t bad... ‘relentless march towards immortality’, and ‘racing’s immovable object’. After all, how else do you describe a generational legend, a horse that is more the stuff of a Jilly Cooper novel than a living, breathing racehorse here and now? And she followed it up with an almost boring victory in the William Reid, and then onwards to Randwick last Saturday. Except that Saturday was a different race, a different effort. The TJ Smith stretched her legs.

The victory was as arrogant as we’ve come to expect, but Luke Nolen had the sails out on the great mare. She was running, pushed out to get away from the pack. Perhaps she’d had to do more in the early furlongs than she was used to, coming off the rail as she did to avoid later scrimmages. But she wasn’t cruising. A few people close to the horse told me a few interesting things, that they believed she was flat to the boards. They thought she was vulnerable, and would be if she raced on. If that was so, it would explain why retirement has come so suddenly. After all, she is approaching seven years old. The miles will stack up.

Whatever the reason, our minds now shift towards other things... will she go to Vinery or Kitchwin Hills, which stallion will she see first, and what will her progeny fetch? And who is the logical successor now... It’s A Dundeel, who dazzled us in the Derby, or half-brother All Too Hard? Because in the end, we’re not ready to let go. How could we be? Black Caviar was a shot in the arm for Australian racing, an animal that poured tens of thousands of people into racecourses and onto racing websites, newspaper pages. Her betting price was secondary, her winnings an afterthought. The whole show was about her, just her, and her extraordinary ability to gallop so much better than anything else. And like Frankel, I suppose she could have been campaigned a bit more aggressively, perhaps sent to Dubai or Hong Kong. Perhaps she was softly sent around at times to protect the record. But whatever she did, she did it in such a way that left me speechless, often cross-legged on the floor in disbelief... what was she made of that made her so much better?

So we plunge on into racing days without her, and it feels a little colder, a little more demure with her absence. That’s what champions do when they are gone. And we probably won’t really appreciate her for decades, when sprinters come along and try to do what she has done at that level, and fail again and again and again. And when we’re old, we’ll do what the old timers of today have done... we’ll shake our heads, stare out the window and say, ‘you should have seen Black Caviar’.