x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Winning circle of friends and their 'gentle giant', Black Caviar

Ten Australians bought the mare for fun, but now they have a horse that is adored by her nation. Geoffrey Riddle meets the group.

Black Caviar has been ridden by Luke Nolen in all but three of her 21 victories.
Black Caviar has been ridden by Luke Nolen in all but three of her 21 victories.

Four days ago, the latest in a long line of remarkable incidents happened to the group of lifelong friends who own Black Caviar. Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, told eight of them that, regrettably, they would not be able to watch Black Caviar's bid to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot. Instead, the owners were invited to chat and have their picture taken with the royal couple.

Anti-royalists may not find that nugget extraordinary, but it underlines how far these Australian friends, some of whom go back to nursery school together, have come since they divided the A$210,000 (Dh773,000) price tag for the hulking black daughter of Bel Esprit four years ago.

Black Caviar has amassed more than Dh20 million for her owners in a record-breaking winning streak of 21 runs, which she bids to extend this afternoon at Royal Ascot.

Should the six-year-old mare strike a blow for Australia in the Group 1 sprint over six furlongs the group will be invited to meet Queen Elizabeth II.

Afternoon tea in the royal box would cap an extraordinary journey for Colin and Jannene Madden, Gary and Kerryn Wilkie, Neil Werret, Pam Hawkes, and David and Jill Taylor, eight of the 10 owners who are in England for the big face.

It was Hawkes, a potato farmer and Jannene Madden's sister, who named their pride and joy.

"Black Caviar's grandmother was called Scandinavia and her mother was called Helsinge, which is in Scandinavia, where the salmon live. It made sense," she told the Melbourne newspaper Herald Sun.

"Besides my husband and children, Black Caviar is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It is a dream come true to own this beautiful horse."

For Gary Wilkie, whose daughter came up with the salmon pink and black-dotted silks that are to be retired with the mare, most likely at the end of this year, buying the horse was simply meant to be a bit of fun.

"We just went to the sale to buy a racehorse not to buy a racehorse to run at Ascot," said the finance broker. "This is the home of racing. They've been racing for 300 years here. We just thought we had the horse and we had the opportunity. We just wanted to be a part of all of this. It's very surreal and very humbling."

Since Black Caviar touched down in Britain 16 days ago the media hullabaloo has intensified, but for the connections of the world's best sprinter this is not new.

Black Caviar's following in Australia is of such magnitude that Channel 7 interrupted the Australian Open semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to televise one of her races.

The Black Caviar team have been at Royal Ascot all week, but the trainer Peter Moody gave Thursday a miss to remain at Newmarket after the endless rounds of interviews, media speculation and curious fans became just too much.

"We stayed way out of the mainstream," Moody told an Australian radio station.

"We viewed all the races from the inside of the track. It was quite annoying, at points, the degree of general well-wishers.

"People really mean the best but at times it is nice just to lean on the bar and talk to your mates and relax but it is impossible at the moment. It takes a little bit of the joy out of it.

"A couple of weeks ago the excitement was waning but to actually take it in this week and to see that performance of Frankel was phenomenal. I am excited now, though, and I just hope we can fly the flag for Australia."

Moody has made it very clear that he would have preferred Black Caviar to remain in Australia, but since arriving at Newmarket he has rolled up his sleeves.

"Having a horse like Black Caviar opens many doors," he said. "This year we've dined with virtually every trainer in Newmarket. We've spent time with Ed Dunlop, William Haggas, Sir Mark Prescott, Luca Cumani and Sir Michael Stoute."

When visiting Stoute, he met Michael Holding, "the great West Indian cricketer", and learnt of his love of racing.

The carnival atmosphere and Moody's acerbic sound bites only serve to underline how confident of success the Australian team are.

The mission, which was conceived back in March last year, has been planned in meticulous detail. Moody brought over Black Caviar's regular jockey, Luke Nolen, Tony Haydon, the assistant trainer, the work rider Paddy Bell and Peter Angus, the vet. There is also a chiropractor and a stalls handler, who will act as a familiar presence at the start in order to soothe the mare in front of a roaring crowd of 70,000. "Away from the races she has the most wonderful temperament any horse could have, a gentle giant," said Glen Darrington, who has marshalled Black Caviar into the stalls for all but two of her runs.

He recalled when Black Caviar became agitated while in the gate ahead of the Danehill Stakes, in September 2009. "She tried to anticipate the start and when she jumped out she was down on her nose and pulled all of her chest muscles."

She still won, though. Which is the reason why 6,500 Australia-based fans are travelling over from down under having bought tickets to today's action. Which is why Black Caviar's brand continues to sell pink-polka-dot ties, the T-shirts and baseball caps. Which is why Melbourne has sold out Federation Square for a live transmission of the race that takes place in the middle of the night and will be over in around 70 seconds. Imagine if she lost?

"I am calm. I've been to all of her races and I don't think I've ever even jumped up and cheered," said Jeff O'Connor, the racing manager to Moody. "Her track work is better than any or her races. Most race days she doesn't even run up to her track work. I'm not nervous. If she's beaten I don't think Luke would even come back to the yard. He'd just keep going, find a little barn outside of Windsor and hide."

sports@thenational.ae

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