Thank goodness Black Caviar did not run out her career in Australia. The horse is a wonder.
Never mind that the huge mare had as much horsepower as a milk float when she reached the line in Ascot's Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Never mind that jockey Luke Nolen put Equus into reverse by mistake and wrecked the gearbox. Black Caviar reminded us all of the magic of sport.
When some of us were young, we woke up on FA Cup final morning bursting with an anticipation that was almost painful as we tried to fill the hours to kickoff. The visit of the All Blacks was like the arrival of a spaceship from a distant planet. An unknown kid called John McEnroe made the Wimbledon semifinals. The darkening finish of a one-day cricket match between Lancashire and Gloucestershire delayed the news.
That has all changed. There is 24-hour sport on television, a constant jibber-jabber on the radio and a ceaseless stream on the internet. Here, in the British summer, Wimbledon is in full biff but the hedgerows of SW19 have not been quivering with whispers of the mystical Djokerman from the East. In a week or two's time, Usain will not arrive like a Bolt from the Blue. And, in November, the world champion All Blacks come not as unknown shadows from a far-off land.
We have literally seen it all before. But Royal Ascot was different. Black Caviar arrived as a legend that many had heard about, but few had seen. You had an idea of what it must have been like when the Beatles touched down in America for the first time.
Royal Ascot doesn't allow mobs of screaming girls to invade the parade ring, but plenty of ladies had their knickers in a twist when news of Black Caviar's approach was rumoured. The men reached shakily for their binoculars, and even a few of the jockeys were standing on seats to get a view.
Black Caviar stopped traffic as she ambled across the road. Punters bought betting slips that they had no intention of cashing in. These bits of thin card were the nearest things to Black Caviar's autograph, short of dipping the morning suit in paint and flinging oneself in front of Caviar's hooves.
News sources were battling over the rights to cover the horse like a string of eager stallions. CNN was here from America. Books are being written and the film rights have been sold. These days horses are Hollywood as the tale of Seabiscuit has proved. Nicole Kidman can't hold a candle to Black Caviar when it comes to Aussie leading ladies.
I AM NOT too sure what Kidman does in her spare time apart from becoming infatuated with hopelessly unsuitable men. But Caviar likes swimming and going to the beach. Maybe she plays water polo – "Isn't that terribly dangerous?" asks Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. "I'll say," replies Tony Curtis, "I had two ponies drown under me." No chance of Caviar going under in Tinseltown.
The horse is a superstar. At midnight in Melbourne, 10,000 turned up to watch her on the big screen. Peter O'Sullevan, one of those polished BBC sporting antiques, called it "one of the most exciting days ever in seven to eight decades of Ascot."
Caviar had her own horse whisperer mouthing sweet nothings in her ear as she walked round the ring. She was loaded into the stalls by her special handler, who might have flown cattle class from Australia. The top end is "horse class" for an animal such as Caviar, who has her own chartered plane and special romper suit to travel in. Not an inkling of deep-vein thrombosis.
As Caviar neared the starting stalls, the BBC (Broadcasting Black Caviar) and CNN (Caviar News Network) didn't have eyes for any other horse. We zoomed in to see Caviar's handler ruffling her hair and coaxing: "Wait, wait, wait." He might also have said: "Ma'am," but we didn't quite pick that up.
And they're off. Caviar cruised out of the blocks, rumbled ahead around halfway and then, as we watched waiting to be amazed, something odd happened. The jockey dropped his hands and Caviar looked like she was now swimming. It was all slow motion. A fearful gasp went through the crowd. It was almost as eerie as the space shuttle blowing up.
Then Nolen just about recovered his dreadful mistake. Fox Sport's commentator said Nolen had "balls of steel, inches away from getting gelded". Trainer Peter Moody was sweeping his way through a series of cigarettes like bushfire. The spectacle was both awful and wonderful as the photograph showed that Black Caviar still had her nose ahead on the line.
The trainer said afterwards that he was disappointed that Britain had not seen Caviar at her best and that "Guts, grit and determination" had got her home. But Moody needn't be disappointed. Nelly pulled up lame the next morning. This was like Tiger winning the US Open on one leg.
It was a terrible risk to make Nelly travel a world away from home, but the owners should be proud of their decision. Thanks for making some of us feel young again. Black Caviar is a wonder. And it's not too often you can say that about sport these days.
- © Fairfax NZ News