Legends of the Lightning

9 February 2022 Written by Patrick Partley

Some of the world’s fastest horses have competed in and won the great Black Caviar Lightning, and the Hayes family has ties to many of them.

The vast empire of the Hayes training enterprise, numerically anyway, is not at the top of victories in the Black Caviar Lightning. 

While Bart Cummings and the Freedman family have an imposing record in the thousand-metre dash, the Hayes family have added a rich vein of notoriety to one of Australia’s revered sprint races.

In 1987, not long out of school, a young David Hayes and his mother, Betty, purchased an alert young filly by the name of Special.

Special showed husband and father, Colin Hayes extraordinary speed and all of Australia saw in late February of 1988 just how much explosive speed this youngster had. 

“We were all supremely confident that with luck she could win the Lightning, but she not only won, but recorded a time of 55.5 seconds, which sent racing historians looking for past times,” trainer David Hayes said from his stable in Sha Tin, Hong Kong.

“Did you know it took until the mid-2000s for Black Caviar to run one-hundredth of a second faster than Special?  And don’t forget, we didn’t have the sophisticated timing mechanisms that they did when Black Caviar was successful,” the legendary trainer said.

It wasn’t the first success the Hayes dynasty had in the famed race, however. In the mid-1970s when races such as the Golden Slipper were only slowly gathering momentum, trainers, owners and breeders would dream of having a two-year old capable of competing against the older and stronger sprinters. 

In 1976 Colin Hayes went where so many had failed by starting a rich black filly by Without Fear.

Appropriately named Desirable, she became the pin-up filly of Australian racing. She didn’t let her fans down, becoming only the second youngster in the history of the race to win the Black Caviar Lightning at just two years of age.

Nature Strip ridden by Jamie Kah wins the Black Caviar Lightning in 2021. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

In 2010 the Hayes family struck again, this time with a sharp, well-bred colt called Nicconi. He scored a strong win in the race, but today has become a part of Lightning history as the first horse to also sire another winner of the Lightning, that being reigning champion, Nature Strip.

“I don’t think anyone has done that in the last century or so,” said Hayes. “Nicconi could have gone on and won more Lightnings, but he had stud duties to attend to. We never doubted that he would produce a world class sprinter like Nature Strip.”

There was more to come from the Hayes team, with Hayes taking on one-time English sprinter Redkirk Warrior. Bred to be a stayer, the giant striding import failed miserably in Hong Kong after being sold. Hayes believed there was more in him than met the eye. 

In 2018 he roared down the Flemington straight and not only redeemed his reputation, but also established himself as a world-class sprinter.

Many racing historians maintain the Black Caviar Lightning is in the upper echelon of horse races staged in this country.

Not one year in this race’s decorated history can we see a drop off of class or a victory by an ordinary horse. 

And 2022 will be no different. Already making the trip down the Hume Highway is the world’s fastest horse, Nature Strip, after a scintillating trial in the city of churches.  

He is on course to become part of an exclusive group of sprinters that have been multiple winners of the event, in the company of Black Caviar, Sky High, Schillaci, Maybe Mahal, Wenona Girl, River Rough and Mahogany.

David Hayes sums up the great race.

“It’s the first glimpse of our very best sprinters and sometimes champion middle-distance racehorses getting ready for richer events. It’s run on a straight track over a thousand metres where rarely an excuse can be found. It’s often run at breakneck speed with only the very best horses being successful.

“At the end of the day we’ll have another outstanding sprinter to make their way into history in this weight-for-age race, which guarantees a special result.”

Header image caption: Redkirk Warrior (GB) ridden by Regan Bayliss wins the Black Caviar Lightning in 2108. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)