02/08/2012 3:34PM

Hovdey: Australia's most talked-about female is Black Caviar


Streaks are freaky, make no mistake. Only lately it seems as if there’s one going all the time, in every corner of the racing world, that requires attention paid.

Andy Serling, the New York Racing Association handicapper and analyst, pointed this out the other day on Steve Byk’s “At the Races” radio show. While fun to follow, Serling said, streaks are misleading because in truth “racing is about losing,” or more precisely, what is learned from losing a race and the manner in which it is lost, because most horses lose more than they win, and it is in the striving to win that the sport nurtures its fascination.

Every schoolchild knows that there is a horse in the Hall of Fame who won 50 races, but never more than six in a row. His name is Exterminator and he also lost 50 races, but of just as much significance is the fact that in 34 of those 50 races he lost he finished second or third.

Then there is Dr. Fager, the most comprehensive champion in the history of the American sport, who in a career of 22 races never won more than six in a row. At the end of the day he won 18, finished second twice, and third once, and the only reason those don’t add up to 22 is because he was placed last after winning the 1967 Jersey Derby because of a foul that could only be described as pilot error.

Native Dancer won his first 11, lost the Kentucky Derby, then won his last 10. At one point Spectacular Bid had winning streaks of 10 and 12 races, punctuated only by his baffling flop in the Belmont Stakes and his on-the-square loss to Affirmed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Affirmed himself managed to run up nine in a row at one point, which was the best Swaps ever did, while Forego’s best streak was six straight, burdened as he was by a series of imposts that would bring a rhino to his knees.

Pick a great one and a streak was probably part of the package – Tom Fool (11), Round Table (11), Man o’ War (14), Buckpasser (15), Cigar (16) – but the streak did not define the greatness of the horse. They rose to significant heights, driven there by the races in which they ran and the company they kept, those winning runs being a glowing byproduct of their quality.

Differently put, one of Citation’s 16 straight wins was in a four-horse allowance race written to his specifications as a prep for subsequent stakes. One of his losses was by a nose while giving 13 pounds to champion Noor over 1 3/4 miles in the 1950 San Juan Capistrano Handicap.

It’s the otherworldly streaks, though, that hog the headlines, as all of Europe awaits the 4-year-old season of Cartier Horse of the Year Frankel, who has won the first nine starts of his career. In America, there will be attention paid if the blue-collar Rapid Redux returns this year to pick up where he left off at 22 straight. And then, half a world away, there is Black Caviar.

Now 6 – or 5 1/2 on the Northern Hemisphere clock – Black Caviar runs this Saturday in her native Australia gunning for her 18th straight victory without a defeat in the C.F. Orr Stakes at Caulfield, in suburban Melbourne. The race has been run in one form or another since 1925.

Quite understandably, Down Under sports fans only recently recovered from the Australian Open are in a tizzy. Black Caviar has become a national institution, one whose owners have promised to take her on the road this spring to Royal Ascot in England if all continues to go well.

Black Caviar also is a sprinter who has never run beyond six furlongs (1,200 meters), which means the seven furlongs of the Orr will represent uncharted territory. According to the Australian wagering website backawinner.com, the Orr “is rarely won by sprinting stars and instead the winners of past Orr Stakes tend to be middle-distance horses or true stayers who start their autumn campaigns in this race.”

Does this make Black Caviar vulnerable? Her trainer, Peter Moody, does not sound all that worried. In a report provided by this correspondent’s man in Australia, Ballina Jockey Club president Robert Jemison, the Herald-Sun reported Moody saying the biggest Orr Stakes danger to Black Caviar “was that she might fall asleep,” since the 1,400-meter start is just 20 meters from her stall.

This sounds familiar, confirmed Kayla Stra, the native of Adelaide who served a six-month apprenticeship with Moody before striking forth on her own and landing in Southern California.

“Peter’s not in the category of Gai Waterhouse or Bart Cummings in terms of being known, but that’s only because he’s younger,” noted Stra. “He’s a very good trainer with a big staff and a lot of horses, many very good ones in the past. He’ll also try to crack the occasional joke.”

While Black Caviar was going through her morning paces at Caulfield this week, preparing for Saturday, Stra took advantage of a dark day in California to win an allowance race at Turf Paradise in Phoenix on Tuesday for California-based Leonard Powell.

“That was fun,” Stra said. “Certainly beat staying home and doing my laundry.”

Stra takes great pride in the fact that an Australian mare is considered the best sprinter in the world, at least if the international rankings can be believed.

“It’s funny how much more people here seem to know about Black Caviar than I do, as famous as she’s become,” Stra said. “I’m so busy with my own horses and the trainers out here giving me a chance. I’ll be watching her, though, and cheering her on.”