Wonder mare's farewell tour one all sports fans should savour
Legendary mare ... Black Caviar. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
LIKE a diva returning to the centre stage, Black Caviar will command the eyes and ears of sports fans on Saturday afternoon when she resumes from the longest spell of her career in the race named after her at Flemington, the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes (1000 metres).
Her gallop at Caulfield a fortnight ago blew out the cobwebs and indicated that she is at, or close to, the levels she reached before her odyssey to Europe last June.
But, such is the attraction - and mystery - of the racing game, that no matter how big the certainty, nothing can be completely taken for granted. Not even for an equine superstar like Black Caviar.
After all, the mighty Ajax, that hero of the 1930s, won 18 times in a row before being beaten at odds of 1/40 in a three-horse race at Rosehill. That price is about $1.02.5¢ in decimal odds, so his loss that day was of seismic proportions.
But unthinkable though it may be, such an eventuality is never far from her trainer Peter Moody's thoughts.
Not that the big man is motivated so much by concern about her unbeaten record, more that he is acutely sensitive to the great champion's welfare.
Her place in the pantheon of Australian legends is assured.
But Racing Victoria's sprint handicapper Neil Jennings is one man who knows better than most just how good the daughter of Bel Esprit is. He has, after all, sought to measure and quantify her performances throughout her career, allocating a mathematical rating to express her ability and where she stands in comparison with her rivals. Jennings has been Racing Victoria's sprint handicapper for nine years, and his assessments have, over the past three seasons, been a public benchmark of her ascension to the position she holds alongside the near-mythical Phar Lap.
From promising young galloper to top-line sprinter to equine superstar it has, Jennings says, been a wonderful journey.
''She was a promising filly right from the start as we gave her a rating of 76 when she beat Kwassa Kwassa, who had won two two-year-old races, on her debut. As she continued to progress we increased her rating, and she was obviously something special, although early on she was beating her own age group and then she got injured and had a long spell. The race that first caught my eye with her was the Danehill Stakes when she beat Wanted [her stablemate] even though she hurt herself coming out of the gates,'' Jennings says. Wanted went on to win the group 1 Newmarket and is now a sire.
''But the race in which she stamped herself as really special was her first group 1 win in the Patinack Farm Classic. It was her eighth win in a row, and she absolutely demolished Star Witness and Ortensia. Going into that race she was rated at 113, coming out she had jumped to 118.
''Then she simply kept progressing. After winning her first Lightning Stakes  she went up to 122, then when she carried 58 kilograms to win the Newmarket she rose to 126, and her current rating is 130.''
Jennings can't let emotion get in the way of his assessment, but as a lover of horses and racing he is just as susceptible as the rest of us to the thrill such a once-in-a-lifetime galloper brings.
''She is a superb athlete, but for me the most memorable performances were those races she had against Hay List, a great sprinter himself who I would rate as the second best in the world. Her two Lightning Stakes wins over him, the TJ Smith Stakes in Sydney and the BTC Cup in Brisbane were tremendous performances.''
Sadly there is no Hay List around on Saturday, but her great rival is back in training and hopefully will get one last crack at his nemesis in Sydney or Brisbane. But for now Moody is right: fans should turn up in droves to pay homage to one of the greatest. They may never see one as good again.