Girls – Rule the world

Amanda Duckworth Sharon Lee Chapman, Getty Images

In its 155-year history, the Melbourne Cup has been won by female owners, trainers and horses. And now, finally, by a female jockey. When a 100-1 shot wins one of the biggest races in the world, usually the horse’s name is what becomes legendary. However, with all due respect to Prince of Penzance’s gallant effort, it is his jockey Michelle Payne who is going into the record books after the pair took the AU$6.2 million Melbourne Cup.

Prince of Penzance’s and jockey Michelle Payne winning Melbourne Cup 2015.
Prince of Penzance’s and jockey Michelle Payne winning Melbourne Cup 2015.


In the immediate aftermath of the race, story lines came pouring out like molten lava from a volcano. Once everyone had come to terms with the fact a huge upset had taken place, one factoid quickly became the headline: Michelle had just become the first female jockey to ever win the ‘Race that Stops a Nation.’

“I just hope it’s a reminder that if you work hard and you dream, things can happen,” she said. “I really want to say to all the young children and people growing up with dreams, you’ve got to believe in yourself. For some reason I always have had great belief in myself. I don’t know why, but I always thought I was going to be a good jockey and one day win the Melbourne Cup.”

Making the win even sweeter is the fact it was also the first Cup victory for Prince of Penzance’s trainer, Darren Weir. The champion Victorian trainer has always had faith in Michelle, who has piloted Prince of Penzance in 23 of his 24 career starts.

The feel-good nature of their victory didn’t stop there, though. Prince of Penzance’s strapper is Michelle’s brother, Stevie, who successfully predicted he would snare barrier one for his sister at the Melbourne Cup’s draw.

However, almost dying is a pretty good reason to not be at your best for a bit.

Sharing the historic win with her brother, who has Down Syndrome, made the victory even sweeter for Michelle.
Sharing the historic win with her brother, who has Down Syndrome, made the victory even sweeter for Michelle.


• 1915 The first woman owner to win the Cup was Mrs E.A. Widdis with Patrobas.

• 1938 Technically Mrs. Allen McDonald became the first female trainer to win the Cup, but because women could not be licensed in Australia, it was her husband who was put down as the trainer of record of Catalogue.

• 1987 The first female jockey to ride in the Cup was Maree Lyndon on Argonaut Style.

• 2001 Sheila Laxon becomes the first woman trainer to officially win the Melbourne Cup. Doubling up on girl power, she won with the mare Ethereal.

• 2003 The first Australian female jockey to ride in the Cup was Clare Lindop on Debben.

• 2005 Wondermare Makybe Diva becomes the only horse to ever win the Cup three times.

• 2013 Fiorente makes trainer Gai Waterhouse, the ‘First Lady of
Australian Racing,’ the third (or second if you want to be technical) woman to win the Cup.

• 2015 Michelle Payne, riding Prince of Penzance, becomes the first female jockey to win the Cup.


“Michelle said she would have been happy with barrier one or two, but I said ‘I’m going to get barrier number one’ and I got it,” Stevie said. “It was very exciting, I’m so happy for Darren, Michelle and all the owners.”

Having a beneficial post position helped Michelle win the race of her life. Stevie has Down Syndrome, and the spotlight on his career success has hopefully challenged stigmas surrounding the condition. Watching Stevie lead Michelle and Prince of Penzance back into the yard after their victory is one of the most touching moments in sports this year.
Or ever.
“He’s just as capable and can do just as good a job as any of the other staff,” said Michelle. “It’s just great that he’s been able to share this experience with me because growing up we were always so much closer being the two youngest of 10. We were often left to go and play on our own, and it’s just amazing to be able to share that with him.”

Then there is the horse himself. Prince of Penzance earned his spot in the race by finishing second in the Moonee Valley Cup just 11 days prior. The gelding had won the contest in 2014, which was his last victory before the duo’s historic achievement. However, almost dying is a pretty good reason to not be at your best for a bit. In February, while on a spell, the gelding suffered from colic and had to have life-saving surgery due to his twisted bowel. His spell ended up stretching to 41 weeks while he recovered.

“He’s just a superstar, this horse,” said Michelle. “What he’s been through, I thought he could do it, but Darren said they don’t usually come back from colic surgery as good as they were. But he’s come back better.”

To top it all off, there are the 6-year-old gelding’s owners. All 50 or so of them. Back in 2011, you could get a 2% stake in the future Melbourne Cup winner for AU$1,000. The horse, affectionately known as Pop, has now earned AU$4,405,690.

For all the storylines, though, the one that will leave its biggest mark on history is Michelle’s.

“The unlikely win of Darren Weir, Michelle Payne and my good friend Sandy McGregor, the managing owner of Prince of Penzance, is another unforgettable chapter in the rich history of our great race,” said Victoria Racing Club’s CEO Simon Love. “Michelle’s remarkable Emirates Melbourne Cup victory has made history and headlines around the world. We hope that her determination will encourage further female participation and provide countless new opportunities for women in racing.”

The first female jockey to ride in the Cup was Maree Lyndon on Argonaut Style in 1987, and now Michelle’s name will go down as the first to win it. The 30-year-old was riding in just her second Melbourne Cup, after finishing 22nd on Allez Wonder in 2009.

This time though, with this horse, she was not to be denied.

“I’ve obviously dreamt about it for many years,” Michelle said. “I’d run this race in my head a few times, and I couldn’t believe how relaxed I was. I just went out there and rode the race. It didn’t work out great from the start because he began a bit slow. I had to dig him out, which was the last thing I wanted to do, to get him pulling in the race. But I felt I had to hold my position. I wasn’t giving up that rail.”

Michelle, who once said she would retire from racing riding at age 28 but changed her mind, came by her love of riding honestly, hailing from a racing family. She paid tribute to that heritage, noting that her father was a trainer and seven of her nine other siblings also became jockeys.

“Racing is in my blood,” she said. “Right from as long as I can remember I was going to be a jockey. There are just so many people to thank. My family, every one of them is a support in their own way and I’m so grateful to be from such a large family. My dad, he’s awesome. Every time you’re going through a hard stage he picks you up and brings you back. I’m just grateful to everybody because I wouldn’t be here without them.”

For those who doubted her, Michelle also had a few memorable words:

“I just want to say to everyone else, they can get stuffed because they think women aren’t strong enough. We just beat the world. I’m so glad I could do the job, not only for Darren and all the owners and his team, but for female jockeys in particular.”




Amanda Duckworth Junji Fukuda, shingo naka, Frank Sorge, Tomoya Moriuchi/

Twenty five years after his greatest moments on the racetrack, Sunday Silence remains a cautionary tale about bias and a story of triumphant victory. The near black runner claimed some of America’s greatest races, but he never did manage to win the hearts or respect of many in his homeland.
But in Japan he became a legend!


What the United States didn’t want, Japan was willing to take a chance on, and it dramatically changed the course of that country’s racing industry. Twelve years after his death, Sunday Silence’s name remains one that cannot be silenced on a global scale.

Sunday Silence out dueled Easy Goer in the 1989 Preakness Stakes. Their battle remains one of the most memorable in America’s racing history.
Sunday Silence out dueled Easy Goer in the 1989 Preakness Stakes.
Their battle remains one of the most memorable in America’s racing history.

A Rough Start

Even Sunday Silence’s early life was one of difficulty.

The future champion was foaled March 25, 1986, at Arthur B. Hancock III’s Stone Farm near Paris, Kentucky. His sire, Halo, was the farm’s top stallion, and his dam was a graded stakes winner named Wishing Well.

Sunday Silence was bred in the name of Oak Cliff Thoroughbreds. The operation’s managing partner, Tom Tatham, had selected Halo as a foundation stallion and was the one who moved Halo from Windfields Farm in Maryland to Stone Farm. Halo was known for being a tough horse, and Sunday Silence followed in that mold.

As a weanling, Sunday Silence almost died. He contracted a freak virus in late November, and on Thanksgiving, a day when most Americans are sitting down to a turkey dinner, Dr. Carl Morrison was at the barns giving Wishing Well’s offspring 18 liters of fluid just to keep him alive.

The strong-willed colt pulled through, in what turned out to be just the first of many times his fierce determination to succeed against the odds would be necessary.

The next summer, the colt was entered in a yearling sale at Keeneland. When bidding was at $10,000, Hancock joined in to help get the number higher, but when the hammer fell at $17,000, he was the one left holding the ticket. Tatham did not want the colt he had bred, and so that is how Hancock ended up owning the horse who was born on his farm the spring before.

As a 2-year-old, Sunday Silence was again entered in a sale, this time in California, and again was rejected by the industry. This time the bidding stalled out at $32,000.

On his way back home to Kentucky and Stone Farm, Sunday Silence once again looked death in the eye and refused to blink. Somewhere in Texas, the van driver had a heart attack and died. In a nightmare situation, the van overturned, killing some of the horses and injuring the rest.


“On his way back home to Kentucky and Stone Farm, Sunday Silence once again looked death in the eye and refused to blink”


The black colt was one of the survivors

That trip to California did end up proving valuable though. Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham was intrigued by Sunday Silence, and ended up making a deal with Hancock. He would train the colt in return for 50 percent ownership. He then ended up selling half of his stake in the horse to Dr. Ernest Gaillard, which is why Sunday Silence ran in the name of H-G-W Partners.

When he made it to the racetrack as a juvenile in October 1988, Sunday Silence ran well, finishing second by a neck in a maiden special weight contest at Santa Anita Park. By his second start, the colt had the game figured out, and began to show what was in his future as he demolished the field by 10 lengths in a rather snappy time 1:09 2/5 for six furlongs.

The world didn’t know it yet, but a future Hall of Fame runner had just tasted victory for the first time.


Taking Sides

In the spring of 1989, Sunday Silence won his stakes debut by taking the Grade 2 San Felipe Handicap. Then, in his next start, he waltzed away from his rivals, winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby by 11 lengths.

The colt no one had wanted was Kentucky Derby bound. However, he was still just an after thought.

History now links the names of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer together, but even before their fateful meetings on the track, the two colts were tied together in a way that goes beyond a simple horse race.

Easy Goer entered the Kentucky Derby as the favorite, and he deserved to be. He had already won three Grade 1 races and was named the champion 2-year-old colt the year before. He also happened to be born down the road from Sunday Silence and was everything his future rival was not.

Far from being unwanted, Easy Goer did everything right and hailed from one of the most powerful racing stables in the world. A beautiful chestnut colt, he spent the beginning of his life at historic Claiborne Farm and raced as a homebred for the powerful Phipps family, which has long been connected with Claiborne’s Hancock family.

Yes, the same Hancock family that Sunday Silence’s owner, Arthur Hancock, belongs to.

When Bull Hancock died, it was widely assumed his eldest son, Arthur, would take over the family business. That didn’t happen. A three-man committee that included Ogden Phipps advised the executors of the estate that the younger son, Seth, should be put in charge.

So, Arthur established Stone Farm just a few miles from his family’s legendary property, and he got a little of his own back when he became the first Hancock to win the Kentucky Derby. He did so in 1982 with Gato del Sol, two years before Claiborne claimed the roses with Swale.

The two farms still exist side-by-side to this day, and much of what happened in the past is simply water under the bridge now, but it certainly added a bit of drama to the Triple Crown in 1989.

On May 6 of that year, racing was blessed with the beginning of a rivalry powerful enough to divide families. Easy Goer was sent off as the favorite, but it was Sunday Silence who emerged the victor, easily winning the Kentucky Derby by 2 ½ lengths over his chestnut nemesis.

“I like a horse who defeats trouble,” said Whittingham after the race. “This is a good horse. He trains good, and I thought his record was just as good as Easy Goer’s.”

With Sunday Silence’s victory, his owner also bested the man who had a say in whether or not he inherited his family’s legacy. In fact, the Phipps family would have to wait until 2013 to finally win the Kentucky Derby. Like Easy Goer, Orb was born and raised at Claiborne and trained by Shug McGaughey.

The thing is, Sunday Silence’s victory came over a muddy track, and Easy Goer had already shown he didn’t care for an off surface when he ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs the year before under similar circumstances. If you think Easy Goer’s connections have gotten over that by now, they haven’t.

After Orb won over a muddy track, McGaughey stated: “A day like today might have cost me one Kentucky. I’ve come to the Derby two times when I thought I had great big chances, and it rained both times. The rain wasn’t quite as wet today as it was in 1989.”

Two weeks later it was on to the Preakness and most people, from racing fans to media, were willing to give Easy Goer a free pass for his Derby performance. In fact, one report said 97 out of 100 sportswriters expected the East Coast wonder to exact revenge over his West Coast rival.

They were wrong, but just barely.


Sunday Silence changed Japan’s breeding industry forever.
Sunday Silence changed Japan’s breeding industry forever.

In a race that remains one of the greatest ever run, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were glued together during the entire stretch run of the Preakness. It was more than just stride-for-stride. It was eyeball-to-eyeball, breath-to-breath, nose-to-nose, black legs churning against copper red ones.

The race was too close to call to everyone but Sunday Silence’s jockey, Patrick Valenzuela, who waved his whip in victory after the wire. He was right. Sunday Silence had won by the most desperate of nostrils.

“I thought I had put Easy Goer away, but Easy Goer came back and gave it all he had, and had me by a neck,” said Valenzuela in the aftermath. “Then my horse came back and gave it all he had. My horse had the momentum. The last five strides I put the whip away. I knew we would win.”

Jockey Pat Day, who had the mount on Easy Goer, gave his horse every chance, but Sunday Silence would not be denied.

“I turned my horse’s head out because he’s competitive, and I wanted him to keep looking at that other horse,” said Day. “It was just an attempt to keep him trying. He tried, but it didn’t work.”

By now, even the most casual race fan had picked their favorite runner. Liking them both simply wasn’t an option. It was one or the other. Even this writer remembers her father and brother arguing over which colt was superior.

After the thrilling display of determination in the Preakness, the Belmont ended up being a bit of a let down.


“It was more than just stride-for-stride. It was eyeball-to-eyeball, breath-to-breath, nose-to-nose, black legs churning against copper red ones”


Easy Goer finally got the better of Sunday Silence, and he did it with ease. He won the Belmont by eight lengths, while Sunday Silence checked-in second.

The racing world would have to wait for five months before the two would meet again. In the meantime, Easy Goer reeled off four straight Grade 1 victories while racing at home in the East. Sunday Silence, meanwhile, only made two starts. He was upset in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes then won the Grade 1 Super Derby.

When the two lined up against each other once more, it was in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The contest was billed “The Race of the Decade” and Easy Goer was once again made the favorite. The public, once again, was wrong.

If you listen to the race call though, the silent belief Easy Goer was the better horse is there: “Sunday Silence is bracing for the oncoming power of Easy Goer, who is right at his neck… The stage is set with three furlongs to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic… Coming to the final furlong, Sunday Silence surges to the front… Easy Goer with one final acceleration… Sunday Silence holds on, and he wins by a desperate neck… Easy Goer was too late.”

No matter what anyone thinks about who was the better horse, the record shows that they faced each other four times, and Sunday Silence only lost once. The unwanted horse finally got the accolades that had been withheld from him, as he was named Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old colt, but even those were given begrudgingly.

“That 19 people voted against Sunday Silence, though, reflects something more about the past season. Had the question on the ballot been, ‘Who is the better horse, Sunday Silence or Easy Goer?’ a lot more than 19 would have voted against the champ,” wrote Steven Crist in the New York Times after the Eclipse Awards.

Additionally, Sunday Silence had established a record for the most money earned in a single season with his 1989 earnings of $4,578,454.

That, as it turns out, was a bigger deal than many realized.


Global Sensation

Although it was hoped the two rivals would meet again, it was not be. Sunday Silence had to undergo surgery in late 1989 to remove a bone chip and didn’t return to the races until July 3, 1990. As it turns out, that was the day before Easy Goer made his last career start. An injury led to his retirement, and he returned to Claiborne Farm.

Sunday Silence would add the Grade 1 Californian Stakes to his resume and finished second by a head in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. However, a tear in a ligament in his left front leg was discovered in early August, leading to his retirement.

The reigning Horse of the Year once more shipped home to Stone Farm, and originally he was supposed to stand his first season for $50,000 in 1991. It never happened. Syndication of the champion did not go well, and American breeders were not very interested.

Easy Goer, a son of the mighty Alydar, was welcomed into the stallion ranks by breeders. Sunday Silence was not. Easy Goer would live out his days where he was born. Sunday Silence would not. Easy Goer took up residence in a stall that once homed the likes of Bold Ruler and Secretariat. Sunday Silence was dismissed from the country.

An announcement was made in September 1990 that Zenya Yoshida had purchased the near-black colt for approximately $10 million, and he would instead begin his stud career at Yoshida’s Shadai Farm in Japan.

To this day, Hancock freely admits Sunday Silence saved his farm. He had been expanding Stone Farm, but in the late 1980s the bottom fell out of the market for both racehorses and real estate. Sunday Silence’s earnings on the track helped, but his sale saved it all.


“Syndication of the champion did not go well, and American breeders were not very interested”


Hancock even recorded a Bluegrass album entitled Sunday Silence, giving credit to his unruly but immensely talented horse. The title track begins: “When all the dreams I dream do not come true, and the friends I have turn out to be so few, when it seems the world is closing in on me, Sunday Silence soothes my soul and sets me free.”

The first foals by Sunday Silence started racing in Japan in 1994. His first starter was his first winner, and he was represented by his first stakes winner just about one month later. It was a good start, for sure, but it was just a drop in the ocean compared to what he would go on to do as a sire.

Although he had been rejected as a stallion in the United States, Sunday Silence was Japan’s leading juvenile sire his first year at stud. When his first crop was 3-years-old, in 1995, he shot to the top of the leading sire list.

Sunday Silence ended up siring five grade 1 winners from his first crop: Fuji Kiseki, Genuine, Tayasu Tsuyoshi, Dance Partner, and Marvelous Sunday. By 2000, he had changed the landscape of Japanese breeding forever. His progeny earned $53,672,791 that year alone, meaning collectively they earned more than $1 million a week.

Only death was powerful enough to remove Sunday Silence from the top, and even then, it needed five years to do it. Although he died in 2002, Sunday Silence was the leading sire in Japan from 1995 until 2007.

In August 2002, word spread throughout the world that Sunday Silence had died. Much like his life, it wasn’t an easy death. Three months before, he had contracted a leg infection. Three surgeries and world-class care were not enough to hold off laminitis, and although Sunday Silence battled on, he succumbed to heart failure caused by his other ailments.

“With illness, in any living creature, there are just things that one must accept, but at 16 years of age, normally one would expect to look forward to many more years of active service,” said Teruya Yoshida. “It’s terribly unfortunate. I think it is not only a great loss to the Japanese breeding industry but to the entire world of racing. From here on, I will endeavor to see that the great number of offspring that Sunday Silence has left behind will carry his blood forth for many generations to come.”

It was not just the Yoshida family who mourned the loss of Sunday Silence. His death was a major blow to anyone with an interest in racing in Japan.

“It is with deep regret that we witness the passing of Sunday Silence, who has given us so many outstanding racehorses, and whose name is known not only in our country but throughout the world,” said Japan Racing Association president Masayuki Takahashi at the time. “I pray for the success of those he has left behind, for the success of his sons and daughters in racing and in breeding.”

Both Yoshida and Takahashi got their wish. Sunday Silence’s progeny have won almost every single major race in Japan, including 20 out of 22 JRA Group 1 contests as well as top international races like the Hong Kong Vase, Hong Kong Mile and Dubai Sheema Classic.

Even so, when Sunday Silence died, many in the United States rationalized the loss to the American gene pool by saying he was a big fish in a small pond. That if he had stayed at home, he would have failed. That Easy Goer was still the better horse.

Deep Impact won the Japanese Triple Crown and is now the country’s leading sire.
Deep Impact won the Japanese Triple Crown and is now the country’s leading sire.

Perhaps part of that belief was the result of Easy Goer dying tragically young. In 1994, at only 8-years-old, he died of an anaphylactic reaction to an undetermined allergen and also had cancerous tumors in multiple organs.

But as the years pass, and racing becomes even more global, the belief Sunday Silence was one of the best stallions the world has ever known is becoming accepted. He wasn’t a great sire in Japan. He was a great sire—period.

It would be impossible to list the accomplishments of his offspring, but numbers help. On the track, his runners have earned more than $785 million. More than 20 of his sons have sired Group/Grade 1 winners the world over, while more than 20 of his daughters have produced Group/Grade 1 winners.

At this year’s Dubai World Cup, the dominance of Sunday Silence’s genes was on display through his grandson Just a Way, who smashed the track record while taking the Dubai Duty Free, and his granddaughter Gentildonna, who added the Dubai Sheema Classic to her long list of accomplishments.

With his victory, Just a Way vaulted to the top of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings when given a rating of 130. That number equals the highest ranking given out in all of 2013, when Black Caviar and Treve both reached that mark.

Just a Way is by Heart’s Cry, while Gentildonna is by Deep Impact. Both stallions are two of Sunday Silence’s greatest sons. Deep Impact won seven Group 1 races, including the Japanese Triple Crown, and is now the leading sire in Japan. Heart’s Cry is best known for winning the Dubai Sheema Classic and finishing third in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Britain.


Sunday Silence’s grandson Orfevre won the 2011 Japanese Triple Crown and was voted Horse of the Year. He is also known for finishing second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe--twice.
Sunday Silence’s grandson Orfevre won the 2011 Japanese Triple Crown and was voted Horse of the Year. He is also known for finishing second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe–twice.

All of this is to say that Sunday Silence’s influence is far from over. The champion runner and champion sire is a horse who should have died before the world ever knew his name, and instead, his name continues to live on long after he left this world.

“It’s terribly unfortunate. I think it is not only a great loss to the Japanese breeding industry but to the entire world of racing. From here on, I will endeavor to see that the great number of offspring that Sunday Silence has left behind will carry his blood forth for many generations to come.”

Perhaps the story of Sunday Silence was summed up best in one of the many eulogies that were written for him 12 years ago:

“They say he fought to the end, which is really no surprise,” wrote Jay Hovdey in the Daily Racing Form. “He deserved a better fate, filled with green pastures and pampered retirement. But that was not in his nature, and that is why his name will last.”

The thing is, both Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were champions. The runners, so different and yet so similar, have both been inducted in to racing’s Hall of Fame, and their races against each other changed the game for the better. Even if no one liked them both at the time, 25 years later, everyone is grateful for them both now.


Sire: Halo Dam: Wishing Well
Record: 14: 9-5-0
Earnings: $4,968,554

• 1989 Horse of the Year
• 1989 Champion 3-year-old colt
• Hall of Fame member
• Leading sire in Japan 1995-2007

Best Progeny (a sampling):

Deep Impact (JPN) 2002, bay
Wind in Her Hair(IRE) – Alzao(USA)
2005 Japanese Triple Crown winner

Neo Universe (JPN) 2000, bay
Pointed Path(GB) – Kris(GB)
2003 TOKYO YUSHUN (Japanese Derby)

Agnes Flight (JPN) 1997, chestnut
Agnes Flora(JPN) – Royal Ski(USA)
2000 TOKYO YUSHUN(Japanese Derby)

Dance In the dark (JPN) 1993 brown Dancing Key (USA) – Nijinsky II (CAN)
Japanese Champion 4-Yr-Old Colt (1996)

Admire Vega (JPN) 1996, bay
Vega(JPN) – Tony Bin(IRE)
1999 TOKYO YUSHUN(Japanese Derby)

Special Week (JPN) 1995, dark brown Campaign Girl(JPN) – Maruzensky(JPN)
1998 TOKYO YUSHUN(Japanese Derby)

Tayasu Tsuyoshi (JPN) 1992, dark brown Magaro (USA) – Caro (IRE)
1995 TOKYO YUSHUN(Japanese Derby)

Zenno Rob Roy (JPN) 2000, dark brown Roamin Rachel(USA) – Mining (USA)

Matsurida Gogh (JPN) 2003, bay Paper Rain(USA) – Bel Bolide(USA)
2007 ARIMA KINEN (The Grand Prix)

Heart’s Cry(JPN) 2001, bay
Irish Dance(JPN) – Tony Bin(IRE)
2005 ARIMA KINEN (The Grand Prix)

Manhattan Cafe (JPN) 1998, brown Subtle Change(IRE) – Law Society(USA)
2001 ARIMA KINEN (The Grand Prix)

BLACK CAVIAR – the wonder mare

Amanda Duckworth Steven Dowden/, Bronwen Healy/

Her name is Black Caviar. During the four years between April 18, 2009 and April 17, 2013, the wonder mare affectionately known as Nelly left her mark not just on Australia’s racing scene, but the world’s. After all, even the hardest of hard boots has to be impressed by a race record that reads 25: 25-0-0.


Four days prior to her somewhat unexpected retirement, Black Caviar stepped onto the track at Randwick for the TJ Smith Stakes, and a sell-out crowd of around 24,000 people was on hand to watch what turned out to be her swan song.

With her dominant win, Black Caviar pushed her record to a perfect 25-for-25 and her Group 1 victory tally to 15, surpassing the record held by the re­vered Kingston Town. Race fans the world over celebrated the talented mare. Rumors ran rampant about a possible return to Royal Ascot, followed by a date with England’s unbeaten champion Frankel.

Then, with a press conference, the ride came to an abrupt end. “At the end of the day we believe she’s done everything we’ve asked her to do and she could possibly have done no more,” said trainer Peter Moody.  “It’s a job well done, and something we can all be extremely proud of. She really gave her all and we thought what else can we achieve? She’s been a great shining light for racing.”

Usually the old  “there was nothing left to prove” line will make fans, industry types and the media collectively roll their eyes. But in Black Caviar’s case, the words rang too true to object to them. Nelly had done everything asked of her—including traveling halfway around the world and back—and no one could begrudge this particular champion for going out on top.



The Early Days

Black Caviar arrived on the scene Aug. 18, 2006 at 5:20 a.m. at Gilgai Farm in Nagambie, Victoria. She was the first born out of the unraced mare Helsinge and spent her foal days on the Goulburn River property before heading to Swettenham Stud in December 2007 for a 10-week yearling preparation.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Australia, long-time friends Colin and Jannene Madden, Gary and Kerryn Wilkie and Neil Werrett were enjoying a holiday on a hired houseboat. It is tradition for the friends. That February of 2007, Werrett convinced the group they should buy a racehorse together. In 2008, they did. The merry band of longtime chums had no idea that their holiday lark would result in owning one of the best racehorses of all time.

At the time the decision was made, trainer Peter Moody had just purchased an unnamed filly for AUS$210,000 at the Mel­bourne premier yearling sale. Werrett had horses with Moody, and the trainer suggested he form a syndicate to own the recent purchase. He took his advice, and the group expanded to include Jannene Madden’s sister, Pam Hawkes, as well as one of Gary Wilkie’s mates named David Taylor, and his wife, Jill.

Hawkes, who has a penchant for seafood, came up with the name Black Caviar for their new acquisition. After all, the Bel Esprit filly’s grandmother was Scandinavia, which is the home of salmon roe, a form of caviar.

Continuing the group’s camaraderie and nod to the delicacy, Wilkie’s daughter came up with the colors for the filly’s silks—salmon with black spots. And yes, the spots are meant to represent caviar.

In 2009, an unheralded second race at Flemington served as Black Caviar’s racing debut. No one could know at the time that the 2-year-old who galloped away to an easy five-length victory would go on to be one of the greatest stars the sport has known. However, her performance that day was certainly good enough to garner some respect. It was the first—and only—time her odds would be anything other than odds-on.

A few weeks later, Black Caviar got the first bit of black type on her resume with an easy score in the Blue Sapphire Stakes. Even an awkward start could not stop her from prevailing by six lengths to close out her juvenile campaign.

When Black Caviar returned to the track months later for her 3-year-old debut in the William Crockett Stakes, she was ridden for the first time by jockey Luke Nolen. Moody’s stable jockey would be her partner for the majority of her historic career, and an easy victory there had her primed to take on the boys in the Group 2 Danehill Stakes.

“At the end of the day we believe she’s done everything we’ve asked her to do and she could possibly have done no more”

Defeating males became routine for Black Caviar, but she did it for the first time in her first attempt at group company as she gamely defeated Wanted, her own stable-mate. Wanted would go on to be a Group 1 winner in his own right. Black Caviar, unfortunately, tore a chest muscle while breaking from the gate and was sidelined for the rest of the spring.

In January 2010, Black Caviar re-appeared on the track for the Group 2 Australia Stakes. It was her first chance at older horses, and she didn’t miss a beat. However, bad luck came after that race and injury put her back on the sideline until October.

Upon her return to the track Black Caviar added two more Group 2 triumphs to her resume in the form of the Schillaci Stakes and Moir Stakes. It was decided it was time for the undefeated filly to step up her game and take on Group 1 company.

On Nov. 6, 2010, Black Caviar lined up for the first of what would turn out to be 15 Group 1 victories. She strolled home in the Patinack Farm Classic. It was quite a way to end the year.

Black Caviar at Royal Ascot. In what turned out to be a true nail-biter!!
Black Caviar at Royal Ascot. In what turned out to be a true nail-biter!!

”Additionally, she was named Sportswoman of the Year by the Daily Telegraph. Not horse of the year. Sportswoman of the Year. Even though Australia had been well represented at the 2012 Olympic Games”

The following February witnessed the wonder mare add the Group 1 Lightning Stakes to her growing list of accomplishments, but it was her next race that really started bringing in the accolades.

During the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap, Black Caviar set a modern-day weight-carrying record for a mare. She went to post with 58kg, surpassing the 56.5kg carried by Maybe Mahal in 1978. With that victory, she also became the first Australian horse to win their first 10 career starts at metropolitan tracks.

A star had truly been born.

• Black Caviar retired with a perfect record of 25-for-25. All but one of those races came in stakes company, and an Australian record of 15 of them came in Group 1 company.

• Her total winning margin is 79.7 lengths.

• Black Caviar’s stable name is Nelly. She is 16.2 hands tall and weighed approximately 620 kg during her racing days.

• When Black Caviar raced at Royal Ascot in England, more than 32,000 people watched the race on big screens in downtown Melbourne.

• Black Caviar was bottle fed as a foal, and while racing had an egg in her feed every day.

• Although Luke Nolen is known for being Black Caviar’s regular rider, 16-year-old apprentice Jarrad Noske rode the future wondermare in her first two races.

• Collingwood footballer Dale Thomas has a picture of Black Caviar tattooed on his backside. He bet one of her owners, David Taylor, that the mighty mare would not win 20 in a row. He lost.

• In the 2012 Lightning Stakes, Black Caviar ran her fastest ever 200m split in 9.98 seconds. She was the first horse in Australia to break 10 seconds for a furlong in an official Thoroughbred race, giving her a top speed of 72.14km/h or 45.09mph. For context, human sprinter Usain Bolt’s world record for 200 meters is 19.19 seconds.

• The shortest price Black started for in a race was $1.04 in the Patinack Farm Classic. This means you had to bet $33 to get a return of $34.

• Black Caviar won over five furlongs (1,000 metres) six times, six furlongs (1,200 metres) 18 times and seven furlongs (1,400 metres) once.

• Black Caviar and Frankel are very distant relations on the dam side. Her 21st dam, Prunella (dam of 1804 Epsom Oaks winner Pelisse), is the 18th dam of Frankel.

• Helsinge, Black Caviar’s dam, was unnamed when purchased by Rick Jamison at the Inglis Easter Broodmare Sale. She was first named Oh Billy Oh before being renamed Helsinge.

• Australia’s racing queen is a modern girl. She is a phenomenon on Twitter and Facebook, with over 70,000 followers.

• Black Caviar holds the modern day international record for consecutive victories at the top level. She broke the mark with her 20th victory, surpassing Zenyatta, who achieved 19 wins before losing.

• When she was named to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame while still actively racing, Black Caviar was only the second horse to receive such an honor. Sunline was the first.


The later days

As her career progressed, Black Caviar traveled Australia, compiling win after win. Record crowds appeared wherever she did, bets were placed and the grand mare never disappointed. On April 28, 2012, she posted her 20th consecutive victory while winning for fun in the Group 1 Robert Sangster Stakes.

That victory pushed her passed the previous Australian record for consecutive metropolitan wins set by Desert Gold and Gloaming early last century. It also broke the modern-day international record set by the United States’ Zenyatta in 2010.

Although Black Caviar belonged to Australia, by now her international appeal was quite broad. For all of her amazing feats in her homeland, perhaps what she will be best remembered for is her 22nd victory. The one that came in England at Royal Ascot.

Wearing a specially designed compression suit, and after a 30-hour, 11,000 mile flight, Black Caviar landed in England take on her biggest challenge yet… racing away from home. Nothing would go her way, and yet the champion proved in every possible way why she bears such a title.

Wonder mare Black Caviar used o suit form oz company Hidez on her journy to Englnd . A completet suit is about Euro 470/$600.
Wonder mare Black Caviar used a suit from oz company Hidez on her journey to England.
A complete suit is about Euro 470/$600.

Thousands of Aussies helped make up the crowd of 80,000 at the track, while thousands more stayed up past midnight at home to watch their grand mare race. In Melbourne, they went so far as to set up a big screen in Federation Square for anyone who wanted to watch.

Gasps could be heard when inexplicably her faithful partner, Nolen, stopped riding in the final strides of the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Everyone had to wait to hear if the darling mare had pulled off the task. As it turns out, she did. By a desperate head.

“I underestimated the testing track of Ascot,” Nolen admitted.  “She’d had enough and that big en­gine throttled right down. It’s unfortunate, because we’re going to talk more about my brain failure than the horse’s fantastic effort. We won, but it may have over­shadowed what was a fantastic effort by the horse. We got away with it.”
Following Black Caviar’s victory, none other than Queen Elizabeth II herself was there to give a pat to the queen of the track in the winner’s enclosure. It was an international iconic moment for any who loves the sport of horse racing.

Later, it was also revealed later that it wasn’t just Nolen’s accidental error that kept Black Caviar from being as dominant as many hoped. She also suffered severe leg and back muscle injuries during the race and yet persevered.

Many thought that injury might be the end of the grand mare’s campaign, but it wasn’t. She returned home to Australia and in the early parts of 2013 posted three more victories in Group 1 company. Her first start back came in none other than the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes, and winning wasn’t enough. She also had to break the long-standing 1,000 meters track record at Flemington.

On March 22, she cruised to victory at a packed-to-capacity Moonee Valley while contesting the Group 1 William Reid Stakes. Perhaps track announcer Greg Miles said it best, proclaiming, “This is brutal power, wrapped in an elegant machine.”

“It’s been a great honor to call Black Caviar 19 times,” Miles told Racing Victoria. “It has been extraordinary to watch the sight of the crowd from our lofty vantage point. The sea of salmon and black is not just a figment, it is real. It is amazing. As her legacy continued to grow, and crowds became bigger and bigger, it was just an enormous sight. Ever­yone came decked out for one reason and to support one horse. It was quite a unique feeling.”

Then came the April 13 TJ Smith Stakes and her unparalleled 25th victory. In doing so, Black Caviar demolished a few more of Australia’s racing records. Not only did she score her 15th Group 1 win, but she ended her career with eight Group 1 wins in succession, besting the record previously held by Bernborough set in 1946.

In all, Black Caviar won at seven tracks and raced over five, six and seven furlongs during a four-year campaign. In addition to her perfect race record, she also retired with more than AUS$7.95 million in prize money. But perhaps most importantly of all, she went out a champion, in front of the people who loved her best.


Beyond the races

Perfection is hard to come by in life, much less in sports. Per­haps that is why Black Caviar struck a chord with so many around the world. Horse racing is a sport that is constantly look­ing for an equine hero, and in Black Caviar, it found its perfect heroine.
The Wonder from Down Under was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, and regularly filled any racecourse she visited to capaci­ty. She has her own merchandise line, her own website, and of course a healthy following on Twitter and Facebook.

Her list of accolades is a long one but perhaps four things serve as the best reminders of the power of Black Caviar. On Feb. 21, 3013, even though she was still running, Black Caviar was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. It is only the second time the Australians have bestowed such an honor on one of their own.
Furthermore, for all the debate about England’s Frankel versus Australia’s Black Caviar, the European racing set officially ac­knowledged how talented the mare was. During the Cartier Racing Awards, Black Caviar was named 2012 European Champion Sprinter based on her one appearance at Royal Ascot. It was the first time a horse trained outside of Europe was so honored.

Additionally, she was named Sportswoman of the Year by the Daily Telegraph. Not horse of the year. Sportswoman of the Year. Even though Australia had been well represented at the 2012 Olympic Games.
For all that, it was never more clear that Black Caviar was pop­ular beyond the racing sphere then when she graced the cover of Australian Vogue. In doing so, she became the first horse to appear on the cover the fashion magazine. Joining her on the cover of the December 2012 issue was Australian model Julia Nobis.01
“Black Caviar certainly knows when the lens is focused on her, and it’s terrific to celebrate her beauty, rather than just her speed,” said editor-in-chief Edwina McCann.

Black Caviar’s owners have long understood that while they owned the mare, she also held a large space in the hearts of the Australian public at large. Photos of her spending time with her goat during a spell or swimming in the ocean regularly appeared during her career.
So, it is not surprising they arranged a farewell for the grand mare. Three days after the retirement announcement came, Black Caviar was paraded for one final time at Caulfield.

“One of the great things about Black Caviar and what she has brought to the racing industry is a deeper engagement of the community, and the community better understanding what the beauty of the Thoroughbred is all about and understanding the horse,” said Racing Victoria’s CEO, Bernard Saundry, during the farewell.  “That is the real thing that has hit home to me.”

A crowd of several thousand turned out to pay tribute and were rewarded for their efforts. Black Caviar paraded for an hour in the pre-parade ring, while her handler, Donna Fisher, allowed fans to pet the mighty champion and take photos to their hearts’ content. Their beloved Nelly wore a rug that read “Farewell Black Caviar, Thanks for the Memories.”

Following that, Nolen mounted his mighty steed one final time and took her for a canter up the Caulfield straight. Her saddle cloth read: BC25. It is almost certainly the last time Black Caviar will feel a saddle on her back, and it was definitely the final time her famed salmon and black silks will be seen on the track, as they were retired along with the champion.

What the future holds for Nelly as a broodmare, no one knows yet. But one thing will be as true 20 years from now as it is today: Black Caviar owes racing nothing, while racing owes Black Caviar far more than could ever be repaid.

About Black Caviar on Wikipedia

On September 13, 2014, Black Caviar gave birth to her first foal, a bay filly by Exceed and Excel. The foal is named Oscietra and is currently in training with the Hayes/Dabernig stables.
On 23 September 2015, Black Caviar gave birth to her second foal, a colt by Sebring. On September 18 2016, Black Caviar gave birth to her third foal, a filly by Snitzel.




- Equine drag racing

Amanda Duckworth Ruidoso Downs, Dan Dry, American Quarter Horse Association, Los alamitos

Drag racing on horse back. Pure speed. All horse. If you are looking for the fastest equine on Earth, look no further than the quarter horse. At their swiftest, racing quarter horses can exceed speeds of 55 miles per hour, meaning the only faster animals on the planet are the cheetah and the Pronghorn antelope. Of course, as the name implies, they are only at their best for a short distance.


Rest assured, a quarter horse is 100 % equine. The “quarter” refers to their preferred running distance, not their pedigree.
The first quarter horses were bred in the late 1600s and early 1700s in the American colonies in what is modern day Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Because those areas were heavily forested, there was no real space for horse racing. As a result, horses either raced down village streets, or they raced on a “quarter path” of about 440 yards that had been cut through the forest.

Champion caliber quarter horses can sprint 440 yards in 21 seconds, starting from a flat-footed standstill.

As result, colonists began breeding horses to run this distance. Many of the matings took place between mares they got from Chickasaw tribes and “blooded” stallions from England, which were the forerunners of the thoroughbred. The Chicksaw mares were of Spanish blood and traced back to Mexico and Spain.
This mix of Spanish and English blood more often than not resulted in a stocky, heavily-muscled horse that could sprint a quarter-mile faster than its competitors. The best of them were called the “Celebrated American Quarter Running Horses” and were the ancestors of today’s American Quarter Horse. As colonists moved west, the wild Mustang was added to the mix.

Where there is quarter horse racing you often find paint horse racing. The American Paint Horse is basically the same breed, but allow multi-colored horses with large parts of white coat.
Where there is quarter horse racing you often find paint horse racing. The American Paint Horse is basically the same breed, but allow multi-colored horses with large parts of white coat.

In 1940 a registry was formed to preserve the American Quarter Horse breed.
Through the passing decades, the American Quarter Horse has drawn the attention of horsemen the world over. Currently more than 30 different countries have full-fledged quarter horse associations that are affiliates of the American Quarter Horse Association.
“There are always exceptions in any breed, but quarter horses tend to have good, tractable dispositions, they are easily trainable, and they tend to be much more ‘people horses’ than other breeds,” the AQHA’s Richard Chamberlain explained. “Part of it is also the cultural aspect. One of the American icons known around the world is the cowboy. If you are interested in that kind of stuff, you are probably going to get a quarter horse.”


■ If you want to know what it is like to ride reigning world champion Cold Cash 123, visit, type in ColdCashWork7 22 12, and go along for the ride as the champion works 220 yards in 10:87.

■ The American Quarter Horse Associa­­tion is the largest equine breed registry in the world. It has registered more than 5 million horses since its inception in 1940.

■ There are 17 recognized colors of American Quarter Horses, including the most prominent color of sorrel (brownish red). The others are bay, black, brown, buckskin, chestnut, dun, red dun, gray, grullo, palomino, red roan, blue roan, bay roan, perlino and cremello.

■ Unlike thoroughbred breed registries which require foals to be the result of a “live cover,” the AQHA does allow artificial insemination and embryo transfers.

■ The breed has a smaller market share and smaller average purses that the thoroughbred market, meaning the average race-bred quarter horse yearling sells for less than $20,000 at auction. In 2011, a total of 16,724 horses started in an official quarter horse race in North America.

■ The current world record for the classic distance of 440 yards is: 20.274, set by First Moonflash in 2009. The record was set during the Grade 1 New Mexico Cham­pionship Challenge at Sunland Park.


Built for Speed
Racing quarter horses are bred for one thing: speed. Champion caliber quarter horses can sprint 440 yards in 21 seconds, starting from a flat-footed standstill.
“It is drag racing with horses,” said Chamberlain. “It is an all out sprint, and it is a pure test of speed. There is no laying back and waiting to make your move or any of that. They are the fastest horses on Earth, period. It is a different type of horse for a different type of racing.”

One of the easiest ways to understand the differences between a quarter horse and a thoroughbred is to think of Olympic runners. Picture a gold medal-winning sprinter like Usain Bolt, and now imagine a champion distance runner like Mo Farah. Both men are amazing athletes, but physically, they are completely different. Such is the difference between a typical quarter horse and a typical thoroughbred.

One Dashing Eagle won the 2012 All American Futurity. At that time the race was worth $2.4 million and is expected to carry a purse of $2.6 million in 2013.
One Dashing Eagle won the 2012 All American Futurity. At that time the race was worth $2.4 million and is expected to carry a purse of $2.6 million in 2013.

“The first thing most people notice is the fact quarter horses are much more heavily muscled, and they have a much heavier hip,” said Chamberlain. “That is where the engine is. Those first few strides are powered from the back. In human terms, the thoroughbred is like the guy that is a distance runner: long, lanky, skinny.”

The classic distance for champion quarter horses is 440 yards, but they can runner shorter and longer.
About the farthest you will see a racing quarter horse be asked to go is 1000 yards, but that is almost a novelty event. A “long distance” race for a quarter horse is usually 870 yards, which is about 10 yards short of a half-mile.
“They can be highly competitive at multiple levels,” said Ty Wyant, media relations director at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico. “But purses are much lower at 870 yards than the shorter distances, so you don’t see the high quality horses stretching out. Nobody breeds 870 yard horses, that just doesn’t happen. You would be broke in a hurry.”

Every sport has the end-all-be-all event to win, and for quarter horse enthusiasts, that race is the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs. The 440 yard contest is for 2-year-olds, and from its inception in 1959 it has been the banner quarter horse race. When Galobar won the first edition, it was worth $129,000, making it the richest purse ever offered in quarter horse racing.
Then in 1978 the All American Futurity became the world’s first $1-million race for any breed. The purse kept growing and in 1982, it became the first $2-million quarter horse race. In 2012, it carried a purse of $2.4 million, which was the richest race for a 2-year-old of any breed in North America. In 2013, the race is expected to be worth $2.6 million.

“The All American Futurity is the cornerstone showcase of quarter horse racing,” said Wyant. “It is the race everybody wants to win. We also have the premiere sale going on at the same time, so it is sort of like Keeneland and Saratoga combined. We have all the high priced yearlings and everybody is here.”

Ruidoso is also home to the All American Derby, a race for 3-year-olds, which is expected to have a purse of $2.5 million in 2013.
For those with older racing quarter horses, the race to win is the Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos Race Course in California. The Grade 1 race carries a purse of $750,000, making it the richest event for older horses in the nation. In total 27 of the 40 winners have been crowned World Champions since the race’s inception in 1972.

Some of the legends
Perhaps one of the best known American Quarter Horses of all-time is the great Refrigerator, who won the All American Futurity and is the only three-time winner of the Champion of Champions.

During a Hall of Fame career that spanned from 1990 until 1995, Refrigerator won 22 of 36 starts for his owner, former AQHA president Jim Helzer, and retired as the sport’s all-time leading money earner. In all, he was a champion 10 times and was named the sport’s world champion twice.
The gelding, who was named after William Perry, the defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears, retired in 1996. Tragically, Refrigerator died at the age of 11 after he suffered a traumatic head injury while in rope horse training. He was euthanized in February 1999 and buried during a private ceremony at the Helzer’s JEH Stallion Station near Pilot Point, TX.

Another American Quarter Horse legend is Easy Jet. From 1969-1970, Easy Jet won 27 of 38 lifetime starts and went on to be one of the sport’s most prolific sires. The world champion’s influence is so strong that even though he died in 1992, Easy Jet is still the sport’s all-time leading sire by wins and is No. 6 by money earned.

When it comes to quarter horse stallions, though, a horse named First Down Dash is alone at the top. A world champion runner in his own right, First Down Dash is the sport’s all-time leading sire by money earned.


Nuts and bolts
One of the reasons the American Quarter Horse has gained such popularity is because of the versatility of the breed.
“In general, it is also the greatest cow horse on earth,” said Chamberlain. “There are a few lines in the quarter horse breed that produce extreme speed, and these are the ones we race. But there are other lines in the breed that produce extreme agility and athletic ability. These are the cow horses, the cutting horses, the ranch-type horses. They don’t have the ability to run a quarter mile in :21 flat but they can jump out of a roping box and catch calf or run a barrel pattern. They have quickness as opposed to ultimate speed.”

While many breeds are extremely strict about preserving bloodlines, the AQHA does allow quarter horses to be bred to thoroughbreds.
If a registered quarter horse mare is bred to a registered thoroughbred stallion, or vice versa, the resulting foal still gets quarter horse papers. As a result, the racing quarter horse has a lot of thoroughbred blood in it, but there are some restrictions.
These hybrid quarter horses are “appendix” registered. If an appendix quarter horse goes on to perform well enough to get a register of merit, then that horse is advanced from the appendix registry to the permanent registry.

Perhaps this continued infusion of thoroughbred blood is part of the reason many of America’s best known thoroughbred trainers cut their teeth in the quarter horse world. For example, while Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert are best known for their Ken­tucky Derby victories, they got their start with quarter horses.

In fact, many racetracks in the United States will host cards that feature both thoroughbred and quarter horse races. In some cases, the breeds are allowed to race against each other.
“I can’t give you a number, but I can tell you there are a whole bunch thoroughbred trainers that started with quarter horses,” said Chamberlain. “When you start with quarter horses, it is a much smaller world and there is less money in it. Very often, the trainer is doing it all himself. He is the guy getting under the horse and doing up the legs; he is washing the horse; he is literally doing everything except riding races. It leads to a much more fully developed all around level of horsemanship. You learn a lot.”