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Racing: Black magic

After 300 years of history, they tend to stick to tradition at Royal Ascot.

Black Caviar will be seeking her 22 consecutive win at Ascot on Saturday   Photograph: PA
Black Caviar will be seeking her 22 consecutive win at Ascot on Saturday Photograph: PA

The royal procession is at the centre of that and there is no truth in the rumour that the carriages plot a different path each day so the Queen can assess the state of the ground ahead of the afternoon's sport.

However, on Saturday there is every chance of a break with protocol and the sight of two royal processions. The first will take place before racing as usual and the second is scheduled for when the stalls crash open for the race that celebrates the monarch's 60 years on the throne.

The Diamond Jubilee Stakes is supposed to be one of the pinnacle races for sprinters in the calendar but this renewal threatens to be different. As one of the trainers of a horse who might normally be considered a leading contender muttered this week: "I keep being reminded that we're running for second spot."

A 200-gram jar of finest caviar (is there any other kind?) will set you back upwards of £1000. Black Caviar weighs in at a mighty 570 kilos, which is bigger than most Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, and is worth her weight in caviar, gold or anything else one cares to mention.

Black Caviar has already been crowned the queen of Australian racing, with the commemorative postage stamp to prove it and an unbroken sequence of 21 career victories. She has long-since conquered racing and beyond in her homeland, to the point when the tennis was delayed at the Australian Open to allow the crowd to watch one of her races. And one of the men behind that success believes it could already be game, set and match to her when she takes on the best of Europe next weekend.

Jeff O'Connor works as racing manager to Black Caviar's trainer, Peter Moody. One of his tasks is to select the racing programmes for Moody's horses and he describes it as "a feather in my cap" that the mare in unbeaten – although he is quick to admit that it helps to have a horse who is a cross between a Ferrari and a Chieftain tank. And, after watching her go through a quiet workout on the Newmarket gallops this week, O'Connor was certain that this tank was ready to roll.

"She's here rock-hard fit and ready to go," he said as he explained the belief that Moody has in the mare. The equation is simple enough. If they can get Black Caviar to the starting stalls in her true form, she wins. That began with the task of loading Black Caviar on to a plane for the first time in her life and flying her halfway around the globe and then trying to cover all eventualities thereafter.

"Things can only go wrong," O'Connor said. "That's the way to look at it and if we can take everything that's in our control and cover that, then we'll have done our best. If she's beaten, she's beaten – but we're not here to be beaten."

Moody has never attempted to protect the unbeaten record but O'Connor admitted that this could be Black Caviar's toughest test if only in terms of having to come to terms with racing in another hemisphere.

"I think Pete will be a bit nervous," O'Connor said. "We're confident of her ability, but it's everything falling into place. That's the nervous time for the next week. I pretty much believe there isn't a horse that can beat her but anything can happen on any given day in racing. Horses get beaten and jockeys fall off."

"This horse's track work is almost better than any of her races," O'Connor said, as if almost forgetting that 11 of her victories have come in Group One races. "On race day a lot of the time she doesn't run up to her track work because she's given an easy time. I've been to every one of her races and I don't think I've ever jumped up and cheered. But I'll enjoy this week."

If Moody and O'Connor are right, Black Caviar could just turn this race into a truly regal procession.

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