The Victorian Racing Club stages the Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning Stakes at Flemington, usually around mid-February. It is the first Group 1 race of the calendar year at Flemington and it is run on the Flemington straight over 1000 metres.
Having the race on the straight somewhat reduces the importance of the barrier draw, but not entirely. Since a Group 1 feature race is held near the end of the meeting, the barriers closest to the rail might not find the turf as firm as it is on the outside barriers.
The race was renamed in 2013 in honour of the three-time winner and undefeated champion Black Caviar. It was simply the Lightning Stakes from when it first went off in 1955.
The running conditions are weight-for-age, so this race has attracted top sprinters throughout its history and the list of significant winners is long and impressive.
Prize money has increased over the years and currently, as of 2021, stands at $750,000.
History of the Black Caviar Lightning
In the current era, the Black Caviar is viewed as the first leg in a three-leg series of sprint races during the autumn carnival. The others are the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield and the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap at Flemington in March.
First run in 1955, the trip was measured in furlongs and was a race of five furlongs. The metric system came along and in 1973 and the race was changed to 1000-metres, which are just a few metres beneath five furlongs.
Of course, before the Group ranking system came into use, the Black Caviar Lightning was a Principal race. It was declared Group 2 in 1980 and hit the Group 1 ranking in 1987, when it was still simply the Lightning Stakes.
The race has always been held at Flemington, except for 2007, when it shifted to Moonee Valley while Flemington was being refurbished.
Flemington is viewed by many as the crown Jewel of Australian Thoroughbred racing, although some debate from the Randwick lot might be expected.
Flemington was the site of racing as early as 1840, when the alluvial flats of the Maribyrnong River where Flemington now sits. The land went under management by the Victoria Racing Club in 1848 and in 1871, Parliament granted legal control of the site to the VRC.
Flemington host 13 Group 1 races, nine Group 2 races and 14 Group 3 races.
Racing History of the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes
Weight-for-age racing generally attracts strong fields and the nice aspect of these conditions is that without age restrictions, the Black Caviar often sees winners come back for encore attempts.
We cannot go into extreme depth, but here are some of the noteworthy winners and a little about their racing careers.
The first winner in 1955 was Gay Vista. He ran in various countries, but in Australia, he made 25 starts and won 16 times. Gay Vista almost seemed too good for Australia, similar to what rugby fans often see with the top union footballers, and he went to the U.S. in 1957, where he won five of eight starts.
One site we often choose to explore a horse’s career lists Gay Vista as a 71-year-old gelding, but we suspect he is well and truly dead.
It did not require much time for the names of major champions to start showing up on the Black Caviar Lightning list of winners.
The first was Todman in 1960. Not only was he a great racer; he was an important sire as well. He won the first Golden Slipper Stakes in 1957, which was arguable his best year, when he won the Champagne Stakes, the Hobartville Stakes and the Canterbury Guineas. His other big win from the year he won the Lightning was the Futurity Stakes.
Even then, noting a horse that was an important sire meant a short racing career, and Todman made only 10 starts. He won or placed second in every race as a two-year-old, and as a three-year-old, he raced only three times. He won two of those starts, but he broke down in the STC Hill Stakes and did not race again for two years.
He won his last three races when he returned and it could justifiable be said that he contributed mightily to the career of his only jockey, Neville Sellwood.
As for his DNA contributions, Todman was the sire of notable stakeswinners, including Eskimo Prince, Sweet Embrace, Blazing Saddles and Imposing. More than $5 million in earnings can be attributed to Todman and mares by him.
He was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2005 and he is considered one of the top Australian sires of all time.
The next years, the next four runnings of the race, require only two names to list the winners. Those winners were Sky High in 1961 and 1962, followed by Wenona Girl in 1963 and 1964.
Sky High’s record has been examined in depth on other pages on this site, but in brief, he won 29 races and placed in 19 from 55 jumps. Sixteen of his wins were in races that have since been declared Group 1.
Much the same can be said for Wenona Girl. She won 15 races that have since been deemed Group 1. She made 68 starts for 27 wins and 26 placings. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
How good was she? Well, Wenona Girl beat Sky High seven times.
Fast forward to 1967 and the name of Storm Queen is revealed on the Black Caviar Lightning winners’ list.
Her trainer, the legendary Bart Cummings, fielded a mare that won 13 times and placed an additional three times from 20 starts. Cummings eventually got Storm Queen to the point of winning out to a mile, but it was as a younger horse that she made all her noise, when in 1966, she won the SAJC Breeders’ Stakes, the VRC Sires’ Produce Stakes, Golden Slipper Stakes and Champagne Stakes, along with three others, the Edward Manifold Stakes, the Moonee Valley Stakes and the Caulfield Guineas.
The Lightning Stakes, over the next nine editions, supplied less notable, but still obviously capable winners.
Maybe Mahal is the next big winner, winning in 1977 and 1978. She was another Bart Cummings horse and a two-time winner of the Doomben 10,000. She also won the Newmarket and Doncaster Handicaps in 1978.
Her first foal sold for a princely sum of $150,000, but she never produced progeny of true significance.
River Rough was a dual winner in 1984 and 1985. The Lightning Stakes was a Group 2 race at the time as was the William Reid Stakes. He was a New Zealand horse, which we often associate with staying races. He won nine times and placed 11 times, 10 of those seconds, over 23 career starts, so it could be said that with a little racing luck, some of those seconds could have been wins.
Placid Ark was the winner in 1987. He cost only $5,000 and the investment returned wins in not only the Lightning Stakes, but also the Oakleigh Plate, the Newmarket Handicap and the Canterbury Stakes, along with a win in his home state of Western Australia in the Winterbottom Stakes. He won 14 times and placed three time in 21 starts.
The years 1990 through 1993 supplied the notables Redelva, Shaftesbury Avenue and Schillaci, twice in 1992 and 1993.
Redelva won four times at Group 1 level in 1990, with numerous Group 2 wins to flesh out his resume, where he was a working horse with 61 starts, 21 wins and 18 places and nearly $1.8 million in prizemoney.
Shaftesbury Avenue was the next winner in 1991 and other major wins include that George Main Stakes, All-Aged Stakes and Honda Stakes, all in 199o. The year he won the Lightning Stakes, he also took out the Newmarket Handicap and the Caulfield Stakes.
Schillaci won the Lightning the next two years. He also won the Futurity Stakes twice for trainer Lee Freedman, along with a total of eight Group 1 wins, three Group 2s and two Group 3s. He earned over $2.3 million from 36 races. Freeman managed to get Schillaci to win out as far as 2,000 metres.
Mahogany was a two-time Lightning Stakes winner, but in 1995 and 1997. Mahogany’s damsire was Alydar. Those with a keen sense of the history of international Thoroughbred racing will recognise the name of Alydar as the colt who ran second to Affirmed when Affirmed won the U.S. Triple Crown in 1987. Alydar would make a good story by himself, but Yank racing is beyond our scope.
As with the past, the Lightning Stakes provided another cluster of notable winners from 2003 through 2009. Choisir won in 2003, Fastnet Rock in 2005, Takeover Target in 2006, Miss Andretti in 2007, Apache Cat in 2008 and Scenic Blast in 2009.
Of that group, Scenic Blast is perhaps the most obscure, but he was Australian Champion Racehorse of the year for the 2008 – 2009 season, as well as the Australian Champion Sprinter for that same season.
The rest of them have been well chronicled on this website and many others as well, so we will skip further details in order to get to 2011, the first year that Black Caviar won the Lightning Stakes.
The never-beaten mare would win the Lightning Stakes three successive times and after her 2013 win, the race was renamed the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes. After winning for the third time, she won the Group 1s William Reid Stakes and the T J Smith Stakes at Randwick before Peter Moody and the other connections retired her.
She has yet to produce a foal with anything near her ability and her best days of breeding might be well behind her, as she is 14 years of age as of 2021.
Our judgement is that it is often the case that great racers do not always insure offspring that win, but in the case of Black Caviar, the gulf between winning on the track and producing winning offspring is wide and deep, given her record on the track.
Here are a couple videos from Black Caviar’s Lightning Stakes wins.
The Black Caviar Lightning Stakes is a prestigious sprint race on the Flemington straight that attracts top Thoroughbred talent.
It is the first Group 1 of the calendar year at Flemington and is a mid-February fixture at a meeting that also includes the C S Hayes Stakes and The Vanity, both Group 3 races.
The 2015 winner was Lankan Rupee. He never won again after winning the Lightning Stakes, but he won a slew of races prior, including the Oakleigh Plate and the Newmarket, two races that seem to be common elements of the past winners of the Lightning Stakes.
Chautauqua won in 2016 and he remains one of our all-time favourites for his racing and for his decision to stop racing when the time to stop came along. Most horses need trainers, connections or a cataclysmic catastrophe to stop racing, but Chautauqua seems to have decided for himself and telegraphed his intention by refusing the leave the barriers.
For that, we admire him.
In Her Time won in 2019 and the 2020 winner was Gytrash.
Just as was the case with Lankan Rupee, In Her Time won her last race when she won the Black Caviar Lightning. She ran well enough prior to that last win, to the extent of earning almost $3.8 million.
2020 winner Gytrash has won over $3 million from 22 starts for 10 wins and 11 placings. The one race where he did not place was the Group 1 The Goodwood, which of course was the one we picked to punt, as Gytrash’s consistency made him seem like a sure dividend.
Here is video for Gytrash’s victory.
|Year||Black Caviar Lightning Past Winners|
|2019||In Her Time|
|1982||He's A Haze|
|1973||Make Mine Roses|