Monday, June 25, 2012

Royal Ascot 2012: Australian super mare Black Caviar took everyone on an emotional rollercoaster ride

So that, ladies and gentlemen of Great Britain, was Black Caviar. How was it for you? Given perhaps the grandest billing of any horse to arrive in this country, she ended up winning by roughly the length of a horseshoe.
Royal Ascot 2012: Australian super mare Black Caviar took everyone on an emotional rollercoaster ride on the day the BBC bowed out of racing
Pin-up: Black Caviar's appearance was one of the highlights of Royal Ascot Photo: REUTERS
By Jonathan Liew

Perhaps, as trainer Peter Moody said, the result was never in doubt. Perhaps it was merely a wickedly slice of theatrical cunning on the part of the horse and her jockey, Luke Nolen. Winning a race despite having stopped before the end is quite the party trick.

And thus ends one of the most surreal fortnights the sport has ever seen. Since a chartered plane carrying Black Caviar landed at Heathrow, via Singapore and Sharjah, the world of racing has been consumed by a giddy, breathless excitement it scarcely knew it still possessed.

From the airport to the Ascot paddock, her every twitch and whimper has been scrutinised. The BBC had prepared a crib sheet for us, containing vital facts such as: “she loves swimming and going to the beach”, as if she were a teenage tennis prodigy. John Parrott reported that there were punters placing a bet on Black Caviar just so they could keep the slip, without the slightest intention of collecting.

But our mania had nothing on what was going on back home. Thousands of spectators packed Federation Square in Melbourne in the middle of the night to watch the race. A range of Black Caviar-branded horse shampoo (“enriched with the natural essential oil of Australian tea tree”) will go on sale in August.

“You get kids drawing little squiggly pictures of her and sending them to us,” racing manager Jeff O’Connor said in an excellent BBC preview feature. “We’ve never had that before. We’ve never ” At this point he choked up with emotion. Some of those drawings must have been harrowing.

Racing is, I think, the only sport left that can inspire this sort of wide-eyed, ingenuous devotion. Never again will the Americans swoon over a pop band in the way they did over The Beatles when they first visited in 1964.

Never again will the English be so astounded by foreign footballers as they were by the Hungarians at Wembley in 1953, who played a brand of football never seen before in this country.

Only horses retain the ability to reawaken such emotions, and Black Caviar’s arrival on these shores evoked a sense of wonder that has largely been lost in an age when humans can hop around the globe at will.

Part of this is the shroud of mystery that still attends racehorses.We can peer inside Lance Armstrong’s lungs and perform painstaking Prozone analysis on great footballers but, as Willie Carson pointed out on Tuesday, what makes unbeaten pair Frankel or Black Caviar so fast is something we will only know when they die and we can cut them open.

When the 1930s thoroughbred and double Classic winner Hyperion died in 1960, it was discovered in the post-mortem that he had an extra pair of ribs.

By then, alas, it was too late for beaten rivals to file complaints to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. And so we sat trapped in a vortex of innocence, in which what we knew was dwarfed by what we did not.

“I wish I knew,” Peter Moody chuckled ruefully when asked what Black Caviar’s secret was. “She must have remarkable bone density,” Clare Balding speculated. “That’s an excuse I always use.”

Only racing manages to keep even its finest experts suspended in such enchanted, almost childlike ignorance. Perhaps that explains why everyone in it is so small.

Black Caviar’s triumphant flying visit was a fitting end to six decades of Royal Ascot coverage on the BBC. Not everything went to plan for them over the week - spelling Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s name wrongly on a caption was a particular low point - but it is hard not to feel a sharp sense of loss.

Over the years, they have done far more good than bad, and, in Balding, have given us one of the finest presenters on television.

Then again, perhaps Channel Four will do just as good a job when they take over next year. As former presenter Peter Dimmock, all 91 years of him, reflected as the broadcast drew near its close: “It’s quite incredible, the changes. But time moves on, and there we are.”



Post a Comment