The Black Caviar fairytale continued in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday, despite the twist in the plot scripted by jockey Luke Nolen. The 32 year old rider’s now famous ‘brain fade’ has sadly overshadowed the mare’s courageous 22-from-22 perfect record.
Nolen’s interview with RSN Racing & Sport about 48 hours prior to the race was eerily prophetic. When asked if he would try and outdo English champion Frankel’s massive 11-length win of Tuesday, Nolen was adamant. “No, no, no…I’m not going to go out there to try and test Frankel’s winning margin. Frankel is not so far removed from our mare…he is not overly big but he is an imposing horse. He’s a wonderful horse with a similar galloping action to our great mare. As long as she bloody wins…that is as far as it is going to go.”
And so all’s well that ends well.
The 5000 Australians that boosted the 77000 strong Ascot crowd must have felt the world come to a standstill in that final 100m as Nolen went into idle mood and appeared to drop his hands, and his guard, as the pack came rushing at him. The French raider Moonlight Cloud looked to have nabbed the Aussie in the shadow of the post.
Nolen was emphatic in his declaration as he dismounted that he had not misjudged the winning post, although his ashen face told a story of a near-death experience.
And it sure as hell looked like he had bungled this one to the sellout crowd in the stands and to the thousands who packed Melbourne’s Federation Square to watch their local hero on a big screen at 1am on a winter’s night.
Peter Moody, Black Caviar’s trainer, seemed unfazed and declared that ‘you’ve only got to win by a quarter of an inch.’
“She was probably out on her feet a furlong and a half out,” Moody said. “She never travelled as keenly and strongly as she does at home and I had concerns half a mile out. Only her grit and ability got her home. Luke was trying to look after her and, while he nearly got caught short, he got the job done.”
Nolen added: “I just thought I could coast. Because it was gruelling, she stopped. She’s a relaxed mare and that was an error that every apprentice is taught not to do and I got away with it. I just let her idle at the finish and maybe the big engine just shut itself down. I duly shit myself. It’s quite unfortunate because it’s going to overshadow what was a very good win. They’re going to talk more about my brain fade than the horse’s fantastic effort.”
A blunder of this nature by a jockey in Australia, would not only have ended in a trial by media. It would have cost Nolen.
Under the strict rules of Australian racing, a jockey who comes so close to losing a major race through failing to ride out to the line can expect severe punishment. This could have meant losing his share of the prize money and a lengthy suspension. The big boys who backed the brilliant mare at 1-6, would be lauding this!
While the team returns to Australia, and retirement a possible option right now, the mood in the Caviar camp in the aftermath of a mission accomplished, was best summed up by co-owner Pam Hawkes: “A win is a win,” she said. “It was a surprise, how close it was, and it must have been a surprise to the jockey, but I hope he’s not feeling bad about it. Black Caviar has taken us on a marvellous journey. We’ve met the Queen twice in one day and, apart from the Duke of Edinburgh, there can’t be many people who can say that.”
Well, true we suppose!