Bold strategic move 10: Perfect finish

Sixth sense: Peter Moody with Black Caviar.

Trainer Peter Moody makes the call to retire one of the world’s greatest racehorses with a perfect record of 25 wins.

“It was the biggest decision I’ve ever made, but probably the easiest,” says celebrated Melbourne trainer Peter Moody of his decision earlier this year to retire Black Caviar, one of the greatest racehorses to grace the track.

Black Caviar went relatively unnoticed for her first nine races.

It was only after her 10th win, in March 2011, in Group One race the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington in Melbourne, that people really started to take notice.

She was big for her age, had stunning acceleration and a catchy name.

With each win her reputation grew and the public came to have high expectations.

She was a sensational athlete and dominated the field at every outing. Punters held their breath when the barriers opened, nervous under the weight of their own expectations. But with each easy win she sealed her standing as a national icon.

“The thing about this horse and why she captures people’s imaginations is her aura of invincibility,” says Moody, who also became a household name.

He’s a burly bloke with a sixth sense that saw Moody Racing win 208 races in the 2012 season, eight of those by his star mare.

Moody always played a straight bat with his owners.

“I’ve built a reputation in my business for being very black-and-white and that’s probably stood me in good stead,” he says, and they knew he wouldn’t hesitate when it came time to retire her.

They still had plenty to gain post retirement with a foal out of Black Caviar tipped to fetch millions – some say even more than her prize money of A$7.95 million.

The record for a yearling in Australia currently stands at A$5 million for Black Caviar’s half-brother, sold to a syndicate from BC3 Thoroughbreds that also bought Black Caviar’s half-sister last year for A$2.6 million.

The pinnacle of Black Caviar’s career was a remarkably tight run in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2012, raced in front of the Queen.

The horse was at the end of a long season and needed a rest, says Moody, but he hoped she had one more run in her.

Her trademark acceleration eluded her that day, but she still won by a nose and pulled up exhausted. Vets confirmed two muscle tears and bruising to her hind legs.

Her chiropractor said she was in a degree of pain that would have forced a footballer from the ground. At that point Moody figured she’d run her last race.

Black Caviar thrills the crowd at Royal Randwick in Sydney at her last appearance, winning the TJ Smith Stakes in April 2013.

Black Caviar thrills the crowd at Royal Randwick in Sydney at her last appearance, winning the TJ Smith Stakes in April 2013.

“But she got home to Australia and I had a look at her I couldn’t believe it was the same horse. I thought ‘holy bloody hell, I might have gone off early’. So I thought, ‘I’ll give you another chance but if I’m not happy along the way...’” Moody recalls.

“But she was just flying, and going as good as she has ever gone. So I started to think not only have we got her back but we might have her back for another couple of years, or 12 months.”

Moody’s approach to retirement had always been not to be greedy. “Every day of the week whether it’s sport, academia, business, you always find where greed has brought about people’s downfall. When’s enough, enough?” he asks.

“I was always mindful of that with her because she’d become such a national treasure, if anything ever happened, the owners and I were going to get kicked to death for being greedy.”

Black Caviar started racing again. She pulled up perfectly after the first run, then “good” after the second.

But it was following her final run in the TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick, Sydney, in April that Moody knew it was all over. “I had no intention of that being her last run – I don’t know if it’s horsemanship, intuition or the fact that I got to know her, I just knew it was time,” Moody recalls.

He told those closest to Black Caviar – Luke Nolen her jockey, Donna her strapper and Paddy, her work rider – and none of them said: “Yeah, but…”.

He gathered the owners at his stables together with the vet, the farrier and the chiropractor. The experts explained her physical health and “ailments”.

“Colin Madden, one of the owners, said ‘What would you do if she was yours?’ and I said ‘I’d retire her’, and that’s when I cried, it was the first time ever,” says Moody. Not one of them said ‘What if we try this...?’. We all knew it was time.”

Sprinting is hard on a horse. It puts extreme pressure on their whole system. “It was a relief to make that decision, to move on. I got to the stage where I was drained. The first 10 wins just flowed and the rest, each one became an event,” Moody says.

“With every race came functions, media; it wasn’t a case of every Saturday driving to the races and throwing a saddle on, it was an event.

“And 25 [wins], it’s a nice number, it’s not 17 or 23. It’s a nice round number.”

This article is from the October 2013 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.

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