Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guest Post: Royal Ascot Hangover

By Kelsey Riley

Royal Ascot is over for another year. And what a renewal it was. Although I have only been following racing outside America for a few years, this was easily one of the most anticipated and exciting few days I have experienced in the sport. The spotlight was on undefeated high weights Frankel and Black Caviar in their respective races.

Frankel opened the show with a flourish, winning the Queen Anne Stakes by an authoritative 11 lengths in what may have been his greatest performance in an already illustrious career. I am sure this was the greatest racing performance I have ever seen, in terms of sheer dominance, and obviously others agreed: he was assigned a Timeform rating of 147, making him the highest rated horse in history on that scale. Now trailing in his wake are all-time greats Sea Bird (145) and Tudor Minstrel and Brigadier Gerard (144).

Frankel and Tom Queally crush the Queen Anne

Here is an article that describes how Frankel’s all-time high Timeform rating was achieved: 


Here is a list of the all-time highest rated horses by Timeform: 


In the end, though, the week was all about Black Caviar. It was an incredible build up to the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on the final day of the meeting, and her fans were prepared, turning out in their Black Caviar paraphernalia every day of the lead up. And just like the preceding days, the aftermath has been all about the great mare as well.

The build up to the race was all about comparing Frankel and Black Caviar, something I grew tired of pretty quickly as you could tell by my last blog. Europeans were quick to throw their support behind Frankel, boasting about why he is better, and Aussie’s the same with Black Caviar in their camp. The aftermath, however, has seen a refreshing sense of appreciation for both animals. It seems as though racing fans everywhere were humbled by Black Caviar’s near defeat, realizing how difficult the task dealt to her actually was when she seemed invincible. For reasons that we’ll never be entirely sure of, Black Caviar ran 15 rating points short of her best performance in winning the Diamond Jubilee by a nose, recording a rating of 115, her lowest number in almost two years. Perhaps it was the testing track, the muscle tears she sustained in running, or the fatigue of international travel (the relatively slow time and weak field would also have hurt the rating). It was probably a bit of everything.

Black Caviar and Luke Nolen win the Diamond Jubilee

The most important measure of Black Caviar’s greatness in this instance was laid out by Timeform analyst Simon Rowlands. Rowlands pointed out in an article on Betfair.com that of the 392 horses that ran over the five-day Royal Ascot meeting, 46% (including Black Caviar) ran 13lbs or greater below their pre-race figures. Black Caviar was the only one good enough to still win, and a Group 1 at that, also overcoming a questionable ride. To me, that is simply remarkable. Rowlands’ article can be read here: 


Here is another story by Racing Victoria’s chief handicapper Greg Carpenter (also on the World Thoroughbred Rankings panel) along similar lines:


I think racing fans and commentators everywhere were united in the shock dealt by Caviar’s near blow, and the result has been an outpour of appreciation for the great mare (even from the British). Gone from the media are comparisons of Black Caviar and Frankel and arguments over who is better. It is clear now that the two cannot be compared, as there is no way to stage a fair contest between them. Black Caviar will now return to Australia likely to stay, and Frankel will remain in Britain.

I must say that amongst the media crush and pressure last week, Frankel’s trainer Sir Henry Cecil was the ultimate gentleman and professional. While he could easily have boasted about Frankel’s superiority after the colt’s Queen Anne romp, the master trainer remained humble, refusing to compare his colt to any other horse or to discredit Caviar at all.  

Getting back to this week’s post-race coverage, there has been some excellent commentary and analysis. I think it is a really positive sign for the industry that so many reporters are engaging in thoughtful analysis, as it is a common criticism (by me included!) that the industry is too archaic and poor at keeping records. It is this type of figurative analysis that will give mainstream fans a historical context and benchmark by which to understand the sport, and encourage their interest in racing. Here is another good article in addition to the two listed above:


A shout out must also go to the ever charismatic Australian fans. In addition to the estimated 3000 that turned up at Royal Ascot with their Black Caviar ties, hats, and flags, millions more watched from their homeland and elsewhere. Fans packed Melbourne’s Federation Square at a chilly 12:45 am (remember it’s winter there) to cheer home their heroine on the big screen, and they didn’t disappoint. Check out this video:

Black Caviar fans pack Melbourne's Federation Square
to watch the Diamond Jubilee

I spent four months of last year in Australia, and I found that Australians are some of the most incredible and enjoyable people to be around: they simply love gambling and sport, and will easily latch onto anything that resembles either and provides a thrill. They are the key reason why Australian racing is thriving: it seems that almost everyone in the country either owns a “leg” of a horse, bets regularly, or at least likes to dress up and go to the races, and they embrace a culture that is lost amongst the mainstream public in many other countries, especially America. Racing is regularly front page news in Australia. If we could bottle up some Aussie enthusiasm and spread it around America and Europe, racing would be thriving once again.

Here is proof of this observation: I watched the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on TV in the corner of a pub in Galway, Ireland. About a half hour before the big race, a family came in and sat at the table beside me. Seeing I was engrossed in the racing, they asked when Black Caviar was running. They said they were from Australia, and knew nothing about racing, but they heard Black Caviar was running so wanted to watch the race. I proceeded to share with them everything I could about Black Caviar, racing, and my time working for Peter Moody, and they were thrilled. In the end I hope I contributed to them becoming lifelong racing fans, but hey, they’re Australian, they were destined anyway.

So here’s to Black Caviar and Frankel, two undefeated champions from Australia and Europe, and two of the greatest horses ever. We are so fortunate to have been fans of racing in their time, and hopefully we will get the chance to see each of them a few more times before they embark on their careers in the breeding shed in their respective hemispheres.

If, like myself, you would like a bit of the hair of the dog to overcome your Royal Ascot hangover, here are some pictures from my two days there last week (Tuesday and Wednesday).

--Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start programme. She will join the TDN staff in July.

Frankel and Tom Queally after winning the Queen Anne
So You Think in the parade ring before the Prince of Wales's
The Ascot parade ring/grandstand

William Buick returns on Joviality after winning the Windsor
Forest Stakes

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