Black Caviar, ridden by Luke Nolan and trained by Peter Moody, cruised down the Ascot straight and appeared to have the race in the bag when hitting the front and taking a two-length lead into the last 200 metres.
But with Moonlight Cloud and Restiadargent closing fast, Nolan suddenly had to get to work to ensure the 1-6 favourite retained her unbeaten tag which she did but only by a head.
An anticipated 10,000 Australians in the grandstand then held their collective breath as Nolen initially failed to respond to Moonlight Cloud’s challenge.
However, as the winning post loomed, Nolen telegraphed his misjudgment when he became animated in the saddle.
He pushed hard on the reins for the last two strides but, by then, the damage had been done.
It was as well for the over-confident jockey that Black Caviar’s head was fully extended as she reached the wire. But for that, Nolen’s antics might well have cost Black Caviar her unbeaten record – not to mention his reputation in the saddle.
To Nolen’s credit, he held his hand up afterwards. “It was an error that every apprentice is taught not to do, and I got away with it today,” the jockey said.
Black Caviar had never previously run on ground as soft as the Ascot turf after heavy showers hit the royal racecourse in the preceding 48 hours.
And Nolen felt that played its part in reducing the mare’s superiority.
“It was a testing track and the only thing I underestimated,” he said.
“I probably haven’t had as much experience as the others in the weighing room. I thought I’d let her coast (to the finish) but she stopped under me.”
Moody was ashen-faced until the result of the photo-finish was announced. And he put a brave face on things afterwards.
“I am happy to come here and win, and we have done that,” he said.
Black Caviar had never run outside Australia and the 11,000-mile journey appeared to take its toll.
She was demonstrably best on the day, albeit by a narrow official margin, but her prospects of overhauling Frankel as the world’s best racehorse were washed away by the rain.
But that was the last thing on her connections’ mind after Nolen’s antics. No sooner had the race ended than criticism started raining down on the beleaguered jockey.
“I hope my performance hasn’t overshadowed what was a great effort by the stable,” the jockey said.
Black Caviar, whose performance fell short of a horse who is officially rated the best sprinter in the world and second only to Frankel in the overall ratings, is now expected to return to Australia.