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.
”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.
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.
“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.
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.
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