Black Caviar Lightning a Royal Ascot pointer
The Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning (1000m) at Flemington is already shaping up as one of the races of 2022 with many of Australia’s top sprinters – Nature Strip, Home Affairs, Gytrash, Eduardo, Masked Crusader and The Inferno – set to step out in the $1 million feature.
Where it could hold even more relevance, though, is as a guide to Australia’s chances of a first Royal Ascot victory in nine years with Nature Strip, Home Affairs and potentially Swats That to make the trip to the UK for the race in June.
In the two decades since Choisir took the Lightning Stakes and then went on to complete the historic double of the King's Stand Stakes over five furlongs (1000m) and the-then Golden Jubilee Stakes over six furlongs (1200m), 13 Lightning runners – including six winners – have contested one of Royal Ascot’s two sprint features that same calendar year.
Of the six winners – Choisir (2003), Takeover Target (2006), Miss Andretti (2007), Scenic Blast (2009), Black Caviar (2012) and Redkirk Warrior (2018) - five went on to strike glory at the Royal meeting, with Redkirk Warrior the only outlier.
Takeover Target, Miss Andretti and Scenic Blast all took the King’s Stand Stakes, which was upgraded from a Group 2 to Group 1 in 2007, while Black Caviar’s famously narrow victory in the 2012 Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes remains one of Australian racing’s finest moments.
Given Lightning Stakes winners have taken the Golden Jubilee Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, it would only be fitting if they should take the race this year. The contest will be renamed the Platinum Jubilee Stakes, celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s seven decades on the throne as of February 6.
Intriguingly, two horses who were beaten in the Lightning Stakes went on to win the Golden Jubilee Stakes.
The first was the original sprinting globetrotter, Hong Kong star Cape Of Good Hope. Beaten into third by Fastnet Rock at his first Australian outing in the 2005 Lightning Stakes, he would take the Group 1 Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley two weeks later before, remarkably, running at Sha Tin eight days later.
In 2005, the Royal meeting was held at York due to a major racecourse renovation at Ascot, and it would be in the north of England that Cape Of Good Hope would take out arguably his biggest victory in the Golden Jubilee Stakes.
The David Oughton trainee would return to Australia twice more for three further runs at Flemington, finishing third in each of the Group 1 Seppelt Salinger Stakes (1200m) and the Group 2 Age Classic (1200m) in 2005 as well as at his swansong behind Takeover Target in the 2006 Lightning Stakes.
The second, Starspangledbanner, technically won the Golden Jubilee Stakes for Ireland in 2010, having joined Coolmore maestro Aidan O’Brien in the weeks before.
However, his autumn campaign – including a fourth to Nicconi in the Lightning Stakes, a win in the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate (1100m) and a third to Wanted in the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m) – was a purely Australian effort with the son of Choisir guided by Leon Corstens.
Starspangledbanner was one of two horses from the 2010 Lightning Stakes to head to Royal Ascot, with winner Nicconi also making the trip. He finished fourth in the King’s Stand Stakes, but he has an opportunity to score a belated win in 2022 with his son Nature Strip set to tackle the Black Caviar Lightning-Royal Ascot double.
LIGHTNING STAKES RUNNERS AT ROYAL ASCOT
Choisir (1st) – Won, King’s Stand Stakes; Won, Golden Jubilee Stakes
Cape Of Good Hope (3rd) – 4th, King’s Stand Stakes; Won, Golden Jubilee Stakes
Takeover Target (1st) – Won, King’s Stand Stakes; 3rd, Golden Jubilee Stakes
Miss Andretti (1st) – Won, King’s Stand Stakes; 15th, Golden Jubilee Stakes
Magnus (2nd) – 3rd, King’s Stand Stakes; 14th, Golden Jubilee Stakes
Magnus (7th) – 8th, King’s Stand Stakes
Scenic Blast (1st) – Won, King’s Stand Stakes
Nicconi (1st) – 4th, King’s Stand Stakes
Starspangledbanner (4th) – Won, Golden Jubilee Stakes
Black Caviar (1st) – Won, Diamond Jubilee Stakes
Shamexpress (6th) – 9th, King’s Stand Stakes
Brazen Beau (2nd) – 2nd, Diamond Jubilee Stakes
Redkirk Warrior (1st) – 10th, Diamond Jubilee Stakes
Image caption: Nature Strip is set to head to Royal Ascot later this year.