Australian thoroughbred horse racing has known its own share of champions, some of whom are well-known around the world: Phar Lap, Carbine, Kingston Rule (a distinguished son of Secretariat) and the incomparable Makybe Diva. Aussie thoroughbreds race on the grass, in the tradition of Great Britain and Europe.
THE VAULT looks at a great thoroughbred mare who is quickly becoming the stuff of Australian legend: the incomparable Black Caviar. Our narrative is enriched, once again, by the stunning photography of Bronwen Healy, Australia’s renowned photographer of thoroughbreds. If you love horses and great photography, you’ll love her blog, “The Image Is Everything” (http://bronwenhealyphotography.blogspot.com/view/sidebar)
To those who know her best, she’s Nelly. Yup. A thoroughbred whose reputation has garnered her a worldwide following is just plain Nelly to her trainer and handlers — even though they know that she’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse. And they’re enjoying every minute of her career, from her morning swims to her blazing down the homestretch to her repertoire of equine antics and daily routines.
The beautifully-conformed yearling daughter of Bel Esprit (1999) and Helsinge (2001) was consigned by Swettenham Stud in 2007, selling for A$210,000 ($ 216,000 USD) to a group of owners: Mr G J Wilkie, Mrs K J Wilkie, Werrett Bloodstock Pty Ltd, Mr C H Madden, Mrs J Madden, Mrs P A Hawkes, Mr D M Taylor, Mrs J Taylor. Swettenham Stud is one of Australia’s primary stud farms, begun by the late Robert Sangster, business tycoon and thoroughbred owner-breeder who’s breeding program produced super-sires Sadler’s Wells and Zabeel. Following Sangster’s death, his son Adam took over the Australian branch of Swettenham and it was there that little Nelly was born in 2006.
The filly was the first foal of Helsinge, an unraced daughter of Desert Sun (1988), a son of the superlative sire Green Desert (1983) and grandson of the mighty Danzig (1977). Phenomenal as Danzig was as a sire and broodmare sire, Green Desert has been equally impressive at stud. The feisty stallion, pensioned in 2010, is a sire of sires whose sons include the incomparable Cape Cross (sire of Sea The Stars), Oasis Dream (sire of Midday). Invincible Spirit (eclipsed the record for winners in a given year, producing 42 individual 2 year-old winners in 2010), Desert Style (sire of Paco Boy) and Shinko Forest (sire of millionaire Tao Tao).
On top, Desert Sun’s pedigree also includes the likes of British champion Sir Ivor (1965) and the great producer Courtly Dee (1968) — who descends from the Nasrullah and Man O’ War sire lines — and was 1983 Broodmare of the Year based on the accomplishments of her talented daughter, Althea (1981). On the bottom, Desert Sun boasts Epsom Derby winner Crepello (1954), as well as some great French thoroughbreds, notably Pharis (1936) and Bois Roussel (1935). Desert Sun is a highly successful sire down under, the best of his offspring being the wonderful New Zealand-bred mare, Sunline (1995), who retired a multi-millionaire with dual victories in the Cox Plate and a number of other prestigious Australian Grade 1’s. Black Caviar is without doubt his other most famous descendant.
Nelly’s sire, Bel Esprit, another millionaire, is a son of Royal Academy (1987) by British Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II (1967) ex. Bespoken (1990), a daughter of champion sprinter, Vain (1966). Vain literally dominated Australian racing from 1968-1970, winning 12 of 14 starts and running a closing second in 2. Vain, a beautiful chestnut with a determined heart, was Australian Champion Race Horse in 1969-70 and was also inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. As a sire, he produced 44 stakes champions including Bel Esprit.
Black Caviar was subsequently sent to the stable of distinguished trainer Peter Moody in Melbourne. Moody grew up in outback Queensland, earning his training stripes as an apprentice to Tommy Smith and Colin Hayes and then serving as foreman for 10 years to Sydney-based trainer Bill Mitchell. Moody then moved to Melbourne early in this decade, and went on to develop one of the strongest stables in the state with an enviable team of top class horses including 2009/10 Australian Racehorse of the Year Typhoon Tracy (2005). Moody claimed his first Melbourne Trainers Premiership last year, eight years after moving to Caulfield. Other notable Moody horses prior to Typhoon Tracy have been Amalfi (1998), a colt by Carnegie (1991) who won the VRC Derby and was Moody’s first big winner, as well as other fine horses, including Ancient Song(1998) winner of the VRC Salinger Stakes, Sky Cuddle (2000) winner of the Emirates Stakes, Testifiable (2002) winner of the Malaysia Airlines SA Derby, Cinque Cento (2001) winner of the 2007 BTC Doomben Cup and Riva San (2004), a grandaughter of Sunday Silence and one of only 4 fillies to ever sweep the Queensland Oaks/ Derby double. And although several of these are fillies, it’s fair to say that Nelly is the best that Peter Moody has ever trained.
Moody’s training style is what one expects of a master teacher: he takes his equine students as far as they can go, preparing each of the 60 horses currently in his stable according to their own strengths, from sprinters to Melbourne Cup runners. With his Nelly, Peter Moody has forged a very special connection, one the filly responded to with all her heart, as evidenced by Black Caviar’s first “public trial” at Cranbourne Training Centre and her first real race, as a 2 year-old:
The filly started one other time as a 2 year-old, stretching out to 1200 metres and winning handily. As a 3 year-old, Black Caviar raced and won three times, twice at G2 levels. But the filly also sustained injuries to her shoulder, after her second race where she had stumbled at the gate, and then a leg injury that was sustained after her victory in the G2 Australia Stakes against older horses. Her 3 year-old campaign, though short, saw the beginning of her winning relationship with jockey Luke Nolan, who has ridden her ever since.
As she rested and rehabilitated for the opening of her 2010-2011 season, a time-off that included swimming as well as grazing and time with her “special friends,” Peter Moody and the mare’s connections were planning an opportunity for their undefeated champ to step up into G1 company at Flemington, in the Patinack Farm Classic. Plans for the Patinack were deftly embedded after two more G2 appearances. Once she had won those first two — and won them handily — “the heat was on” to see if the big, dark mare with the cool and sensible disposition could strut her stuff with top-form competition.
Of course, she won the 2010 Patinack, much to the delight of her fans, trainer and connections. In the Coolmore Lightning Stakes, Black Caviar’s first start of 2011 and her second G1, the courageous Hay List (2005) a gelding who descends from Storm Cat and Seattle Slew, was back to take her on again. How good is Hay List? Good enough to have won 14 of 19 starts and placed in 3 by the close of his 2011 racing season. So it was that on the eve of the Coolmore Lightning, the stage was set for a battle worthy of Affirmed and Alydar, or Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, or Ferdinand and Alysheba…..
The talented mare would round off her 2010-2011 season with 11 consecutive wins, 5 in Group Ones, beating the determined Hay List into second another two times in the process. Her winning form in 2010 and 2011 would earn her WTRR Champion Sprinter of 2010, as well as the title of Australian Horse of the Year in 2011. By May 2011, her last race of the season, Black Caviar had been rated by Timeform at 130, tying with the undefeated Frankel for Best Thoroughbred in the World. Nelly took it all in stride. She was, however, still running exclusively in 1200 metre sprints, while carrying weights of 56-58 kg. each time. Were she not such a big, strong typey mare, such additional weight would have been punishing. In Australasia, thoroughbreds’ birthdays are on August 1, so Nelly’s last race was run just before her 5th birthday. Here she is in her last win — #13 — of the 2010-2011 season:
By now, Peter Moody was thoroughly besmitten with his superstar. So much so that this next series of photos by Bronwen Healy should probably be subtitled: “Who Loves You, Baby?”
Black Caviar’s 2011-2012 season kicked off on October 8, 2011 with a win in the G2 Schillacci Stakes, followed by a 15th straight win in the G2 Schweppes Stakes. Moody wasn’t so much setting her on a backwards course as he was giving her the time to step up for the 2011 Patinack Classic, given her age. It turned out to be a shrewd move, since after her Patinack win, it became clear that Black Caviar was feeling the wear and tear of still another racing season. Her jockey, Luke Nolan reported that she just didn’t feel “quite right” to him, despite the win. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that the champion had aggravated a muscle tear in her back. So at this writing, our Nelly is being given a much-deserved vacation. Assuming she’s back in form for her debut in the Australia Stakes on January 27, 2012, the central goal is to stretch her out beyond the familiar distance of 1200 metres in preparation for an appearance at Royal Ascot in 2012.
Looking at Black Caviar’s pedigree, she owes at least some of her sprinting prowess to Vain, while also inheriting similar potential from Crimson Saint (1969), a daughter of Crimson Satan(1959) and a Blue Hen who produced not only Royal Academy, but full siblings Terlingua (1976), the dam of Storm Cat and Pancho Villa (1982) by the mighty Secretariat. During her racing career, Crimson Saint was an accomplished sprinter, described by Wayne Lucas as his “favourite mare” of the day. Sprinting influences aside, Nelly’s ancestry over 4 generations indicates that she has what it takes to stay a longer course.
One thing is certain: Black Caviar’s trainer and owners will only do what’s absolutely best for their champion. She is respected and loved by all of those closest to her and they know she is a thoroughbred who will always answer a challenge, making it important that she is not asked to go beyond her own potential.
Her return will likely dominate thoroughbred racing come January 2012 — and what a special, special way to kick off the new year!
These just in — taken by Bronwen Healy — NELLY AT THE BEACH. Enjoy!