It’s not often the Queen has another female rivalling her for attention at Royal Ascot, but today her Majesty had no choice but to share centre stage with Black Caviar. The Australian wonder-mare’s appearance at the Royal Meeting had been the subject of extensive speculation, theorising and excitement and her victory provided drama worthy of the hype.
As the stalls opened for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, Black Caviar was the unbackable 1/6 favourite for the race. But that price didn’t put off punters as the money came for what many presumed would be a formality. It was a less a matter of ‘if she would win’ and more like ‘how much crying would be done by her opponents after they receiving their sound beating’.
It started well. After some generous TLC from her handler in the stalls, she got away nicely. She settled well and as she kicked for home about two furlongs out, it looked like none of her competitors could lay down a challenge. Then came the moment to have the punters panicking. With victory looking assured, jockey Luke Nolen eased up on his cherished mount. But he made a miscalculation worthy of the Greek Central Bank. French raiders Moonlight Cloud and Restiadargent hadn’t given up the ghost and they stayed on. For a split second it looked like Black Caviar would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Just in time, Nolen eked more effort out of the superstar and she reasserted herself in the final strides. It went to a photo, but there was little doubt. Black Caviar had hung on and the celebrations began in the Ascot stands and thousands of miles away in Australia.
Afterwards, Luke Nolen carried himself like a man forced to sit through a Celine Dion concert. His troubled expression at odds with the general jubilation around him. The Aussie raider had taken the spoils, but also almost thrown them away.
The post-mortem began immediately with speculation about the nature of the error. Was it complacency? The need to go easy on the unbeaten mare? A mistake about the positioning of the winning line? Nolen didn’t shy away from it either, admitting an error of judgement.
“I underestimated the testing track of Ascot,” he confessed. “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 ,“ he correctly added. Never shy to criticise sporting flops, the Sydney Morning Herald summed up the feeling concisely, noting “Jockey Luke Nolen gave the nation a heart attack when he tried to give the star mare the easiest of times over the last 100 metres. It was victory, but not of the kind many had expected.
Away from the big race of the day, it was clear who the day belonged to. After enduring a tough week, the last day of the Royal meeting went the way of the punters. The well-backed Tha’Ir won the Chesham Stakes for Godolphin at 9/2 whilst the favourites Sea Moon (3/1) and Camborne (11/2) claimed the Hardwicke Stakes and Duke of Edinburgh Handicap respectively. One blip was the win of 33/1 shot, Dandy Boy in the Wokingham Stakes, but the meeting finished with a notable winner and another triumph for favourite backers. The Willie Mullins trained Simenon (11/4F) took the honours in the Queen Alexandra Stakes, which remarkably was the five year old’s second win of this Royal Ascot week. It’s a remarkable performance from Mullins as only last March had the horse trailed home last of all in Cheltenham’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.