Black Caviar retires with perfect record
Superstar Australian mare claimed 25th straight win at Randwick last Saturday
Luke Nolan rides Black Caviar to win the Darley TJ Smith Stakes on Australian Derby Day at Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Superlatives attached themselves to Black Caviar, whose retirement was announced today, from early in her unbeaten, 25-race career. She has been called the best sprinter that the sport has seen, the best racehorse to emerge from Australia and, on occasions, just the best, full stop. For the exceptional mare's most ardent fans, all three are simply a matter of fact and likely to remain so, even if something comes along soon that goes on to win 26.
In racing, of course, superlatives litter the landscape like screwed-up tickets after a bad day for favourites and "the best" can be a very relative concept, even in the context of a single race. A horse might be "the best" in a handicap it if finishes first, but if the half-length runner-up is giving it a stone, then the second is "the best at the weights". And if the hot favourite is the next horse home after trouble in running, a thousand pockets will make a case for that one too.
The nearest thing we have to a definitive answer to what is "the best" is the annual list of ratings compiled by an international panel of handicappers, and in the case of Black Caviar, their opinion seems to leave little room for doubt. In the 2011 Classification, Black Caviar was rated the second-best active racehorse in the world behind Frankel. A year later, she was not even that, as Cirrus Des Aigles was rated 1lb better, and Black Caviar was joint-third with Excelebration, who was crushed by Frankel every time they met.
Even the long, unblemished run of "1"s in front of her name, including 15 at Group One level, five more than Frankel managed, is not entirely what it seems.
All but one of her 25 starts was at either five or six furlongs, the jump-and-go sprinters' trips which rely on speed alone. Frankel's Group Ones had only a three-furlong range, from seven furlongs to 10, but crucially brought stamina into play alongside pure speed.
And Black Caviar's only race outside Australia, in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer, was the one occasion when she looked beatable. Luke Nolen may have eased down in the closing stages as Black Caviar scrambled home a neck ahead of Moonlight Cloud, but she still left her best form at home. The ratings experts decided that Black Caviar was the third-best performer of 2012 because that, on the form in front of them, was the best they could do.
Ratings, though, have always been a blunt measure of a racing career, and Black Caviar exposes their shortcomings more powerfully even than Frankel, who was named the top-rated horse of the last 40 years only after some "adjustments" to figures recorded in the late 1970s.
A rating measures what a horse achieves on the track, not the legacy it leaves on the other side of the running rail. In the case of Black Caviar, her rating is not just a crude assessment of her place in turf history, it is grossly unfair.
The numbers that tell the real story of Black Caviar are the thousands she put on the gate when she ran, the new fans she brought to racing and the excitement and anticipation that followed her around, both on the track and away from it too. She was arguably the first great racehorse of the social media age, with countless followers on Facebook and Twitter. Her racing career was a shared experience, and all the more intense as a result.
The greatest racing performance at Royal Ascot last summer was Frankel's 11-length success in the Queen Anne Stakes. The most memorable performance, however, and by some distance, was Black Caviar's Diamond Jubilee. It took a little less than 75 seconds to run, but the buzz had been building from the moment that Black Caviar entered the paddock and the race itself was the most concentrated and compelling piece of racing theatre that most of the 80,000 spectators at Ascot will ever experience.
It reached a much wider audience too, not just in Australia, where thousands packed into watch her on a big screen in Melbourne's Federation Square, but around the world. Frankel's official rating may have been higher, but in the TV ratings, Black Caviar beat him pointless.
Performances on the track are just part of what makes up a great racehorse. The special ones have a charisma that sweeps people up and carries them along. Black Caviar had as much of that as any horse we have seen, and in the era of social media, a global reach far beyond the champions of just 20 years ago. Black Caviar was not the best racehorse of all time, or even last year. But she was arguably the most popular and that, in addition to her flawless racing record and 15 Group One victories, means that she deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest. Guardian Service