The Caviar Conundrum

In the lead up to Friday night’s William Reid Stakes, let’s have a close look at the Black Caviar legacy and try and answer some mainstream press related questions.

1. Is Black Caviar the best horse since Phar Lap as is quoted often in the newspapers?

2. Is she the best sprinting mare in the history of Australian racing?

3. Is she the best sprinter in the history of Australian racing?

Is Black Caviar the best horse since Phar Lap?

Well in a word, no. But that is only because, the term ‘best horse since Phar Lap,’ is just that, a term, It is a mantle that generational stars bare once every 20 or 30 years. It is a term generated by the press to describe a ‘the best horses of the time.’ Bernborough in 1946 was splashed all over the Australian press under headlines such as the ones below…

The Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 October 1946.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), 14 October 1946.

Then in the 1950s, Tulloch was claimed the best horse since Phar Lap, and therefore, the best horse since Bernborough.

Australian Women’s Weekly, 3 June 1959.

Then in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kingston Town was acclaimed the best horse since Phar Lap! Now Black Caviar holds the title. It is purely a generational thing. It is a title that in another 20 years, another horse might hold.

Is Black Caviar the best horse since Kingston Town? Yes, but is she the best horse since Phar Lap? No.

Now this is not a knock on Black Caviar. The truth is, at 1200m under WFA conditions, Black Caviar would probably beat Phar Lap. In a 1000m race around Moonee Valley, Bernborough probably could not run her down. As a six-year-old she is probably better at 1200m than Tulloch was at 1200m when he was six. But at 2400m, Phar Lap would of course beat Black Caviar. If Black Caviar and Bernborough both had 10.5 (almost 66kg) in the Doomben 10,000 like Bernborough carried to win the race in 1946, the big Queensland horse would smash her. Could Black Caviar as a three-year-old possibly have won the Caulfield Cup with a record weight in the fastest time for 12 furlongs in the history of racing worldwide? Of course not. But Tulloch did. And could have Black Caviar won the 3200m Sydney Cup as a three-year-old like Kingston Town? Probably not. But all these scenarios are simply hypothetical, because Black Caviar is a sprinter and only a sprinter!

So the answer to the question ‘Is Black Caviar the best horse since Phar Lap?’ is no. But she sure is one of them!

Is Black Caviar the best sprinting mare in the history of Australian racing?

Yes she is. Now this is probably up for debate, but the second best sprinting mare in Australian racing history might just be Wenona Girl. This super mare had 68 starts for 27 wins. Black Caviar has had 23 starts for 23 wins. She may never get to 27 wins like Wenona Girl, but surely 23 from 23 is better than 27 from 68. If Black Caviar was to have another 45 starts (which she most definitely will not!) to match the number of starts Wenona Girl had, she surely would at least win another 4 to match Wenona Girl’s number of wins.

Wenona Girl raced in the best company for her entire career including lots of races against fellow Hall Of Fame horse Sky High. But she was beaten 41 times. In each of these 41 races, the winner was not an immortal champion. On several occasions she was beaten by champions like Aquanita and Sky High. But on other occasions she was beaten by horses that at their best, Black Caviar (at her best) would beat by 15 lengths.

Black Caviar is clearly the best sprinting mare in the history of Australian racing.

Is Black Caviar the best sprinter in the history of Australian racing?

Maybe. Not sure. Impossible to answer. Only two horses could possibly be better than her; Vain and Todman. Vain was beaten twice; once when he was 6/1 on as a two-year-old when he was rumoured to be sick, have a horrible coat and not at all want to be at the races. This is not unusual for a two-year-old colt and he did still run second. He bounced back 7 days later to beat the exact horse that beat him a week previous, by 10 lengths. Vain lost again the next year at Moonee Valley. It is interesting to note that this day, Pat Hyland, Vain’s usual rider was not aboard the champion. This is a pretty weak excuses and Black Caviar has won before without Luke Nolen. But Vain did win three races in a week by 12 lengths, 6 lengths and 1.5 lengths. In the 6 length win, he beat the clear second best sprinter in the land Black Onyx. Is Black Caviar better than Vain? Not sure. Could Black Caviar have beaten Vain? Yes. Could Vain have beaten Black Caviar? Yes. Let’s call this one a draw.

Todman is in the same boat as Vain. He only lost twice, but once was to Tulloch and once was to Redcraze where he broke down. He won every other start including once beating Tulloch by 6 lengths. Could Black Caviar have beaten Tulloch over 1200m by 6?

Let’s face it. Vain, Todman and Black Caviar will never run against each other and if they did, we might get a three way dead heat. If they ran three races against each other we might get three different results. All three smashed their rivals by huge margins, all three broke track records and all three will never be forgotten.

Black Caviar is not the best horse since Phar Lap because all the other ‘best horses since Phar Lap’ won over distances between 1000m and 2400m. But as discussed the best horse since Phar Lap does not exist in history, it is a present day title given to the best horse running at that particular time.

Black Caviar is the best sprinting mare in the history of Australian racing and she is tied as the best sprinter in Australian racing history. There, equations solved. Let’s all just enjoy her last few runs.

By Zeb Armstrong

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