Lightning challenge for Caviar
While the ease of her Orr Stakes win last start surprised many, Black Caviar is likely to be asked to do more on Saturday
Last week the world's highest Timeform rated sprinter Black Caviar (135+) put to rest any doubts in Gary Crispe's mind about her handling 1400m, although on Saturday she faces a new challenge.
In the space of seven days, Black Caviar is dropping back 400m in distance from the Orr Stakes to tackle the G1 Lightning Stakes down the straight 1000m at Flemington, a race she won fresh-up last year.
The afterthought by trainer Peter Moody and connections to back up Black Caviar a week later in the G 1 Lightning Stakes, rather than have a Saturday morning track gallop ahead of the G1 Futurity Stakes again over 1400m next Saturday, has taken rival trainers by surprise.
Black Caviar maintained her unbeaten run in the Orr Stakes with an effortless display over G1 Caulfield Cup winner Southern Speed and multiple G1 winner and Australian Cup-placed Playing God, recording her 18th victory and equalling the great Ajax's winning sequence achieved back in the late 1930's.
On Saturday, however, she faces a totally different assignment.
Opposed to her are old "sparring partner" Hay List, up-and-coming three-year-old sprinter Fox wedge, which pushed Sepoy to a head down the Flemington straight in the Spring, G1 Goodwood Handicap winner Lone Rock and several other accomplished specialist sprinters, all aimed at producing their best first-up over the Flemington 1000m.
The task of dropping back 400m in the space of a week and tackling such a fine group of speedsters raises concerns as to whether she will have sufficient speed in her legs, especially after being trained specifically for two 1400m races, which was to be her original race programme.
Call the decision arrogant, if you dare, but obviously Moody and the connections are eager to bag the 20 consecutive wins she needs to surpass the great Zenyatta, which had her unbeaten run abruptly terminated when unluckily defeated by Blame at her 20th start in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic.
A win in the Lightning Stakes will clinch the Australian record of consecutive victories for Black Caviar in her own right and set a record that will stand for many a year.
She will not have history on her side.
The G1 Lightning Stakes was first run in 1955 and the most relevant past occurrence to what lies ahead for Black Caviar was the attempt by the smart three-year-old sprinter Star Of Heaven, trained by Angus Armanasco and owned by Stanley Wootton.
In 1965 Star Of Heaven was beaten half a head in the Orr Stakes over 1400m behind Future before dropping back to the 1000m of the Lightning Stakes where he was again beaten a half-head, this time by in-form classy sprinter Marmion. However, the gap between the races was 14 days, not seven as it is on Saturday.
To further demonstrate the task that lies ahead for Black Caviar, a search of Australian race results for the last 10 years reveals that no horse at Listed or group level in Australia has attempted such a drop back in distance within seven days.
Further, on Australian metropolitan race-tracks in non-black type races, just one horse from 25 that attempted it has been successful back in 2001.
On country and provincial racetracks, the record is 33 winners from 350 horses to have attempted the feat.
It is an infinitely easier task for horses to go from the Lightning Stakes to the 1400m of the Futurity Stakes a fortnight later, with Todman (1960), Schillaci (1993) and Testa Rossa (2000) executing that double.
While the ease of her Orr Stakes win last start surprised many, she is likely to be asked to do more on Saturday. Not only does the drop back in distance at the elite level within a week pose a new challenge for the wonder mare, but the opposition she faces have all been set for the 1000m scamper, the most notable being classy sprinter Hay List.
Hay List (Timeform rated 128) is the only horse in Australia to have seriously tested Black Caviar at G1 level. In four previous match-ups he has been runner-up three times, but is perfectly placed to make Black Caviar raise a sweat.
The last time the pair met was in the BTC Cup (1200m) at Doomben in May of 2011 where he finished two lengths behind Black Caviar after getting what appeared to be a winning break at the 300m mark, only to succumb to her superior acceleration over the concluding stages. Black Caviar and Hay List also met in last year's Lightning Stakes, with over three lengths separating the pair on that occasion.
In any other era of Australian racing, Hay List would be acclaimed as one of the best sprinters produced. With a Timeform rating of 128 he compares favourably with past classy sprinters such as Choisir, Scenic Blast, Miss Andretti, Schillaci, Placid Ark and Starspangledbanner to name a few, but Black Caviar has dominated him in the past.
However, that may change slightly at Flemington. Hay List, which wear blinkers for the first time, has not raced since their last meeting, the hulking sprinter being given plenty of rest to overcome niggling injuries that plagued him during his last campaign. Trainer John McNair is very confident race-goers will see a different Hay List, injury free and rearing to go after sparkling track work and an effortless barrier trial win at Randwick last month.
The signs are there he will make a race of it today and the finish could get interesting if some of the speed is taken from Black Caviar's legs after being trained for 1400m assignments.
The chances against her don't stop with Hay List. Emerging three-year-old sprinting talent Foxwedge (Timeform rated 120p) is a horse expected to make his mark this preparation with connections already pencilling in Royal Ascot if all goes to plan.
To be ridden by Nash Rawiller, Foxwedge has raced just nine times for four wins but has continued to develop and mature during his short racing career to date.
This afternoon racegoers will see a vastly different colt to the one that almost caused the boilover of the Spring by nearly defeating Sepoy in the G1 Coolmore Stakes down the Flemington straight 1200m.
That was his highest rating performance to date but I am expecting him to build significantly on that figure this campaign. A strong point in his favour today is the excellent record three-year-olds have in the Lightning Stakes.
Black Caviar's surprise defence of her Lightning Stakes crown is going to be a contest to savour. Not that on ratings she can be beaten but the dynamics of this race present a different challenge for her, but one that all devoted racegoers are expecting her to handle in her usual dominant fashion.