Black Caviar is one of the most successful and athletic horses to have ever thundered along a racetrack. At the time of writing, the statuesque mare had won 22 races from 22 starts and was considered the world’s greatest racehorse of her time.
Peter Moody is her trainer. He’s successful, too – probably not as athletic, but he makes up for that in spades with intuition, experience and knowledge gained from working as a teen with the greats of Australian horseracing: the late Tommy Smith and Colin Hayes and evergreen Bart Cummings.
Rising just after 3am every day to oversee track work of any of the 250 horses currently under his care, Moody also carries with him the weight of training and determining the future of what he says has become a national icon – Black Caviar. Will she race just one more season, or will she retire at the top of her game and move into breeding? We’ll see.
He’s a self-confessed “simple guy” who’d prefer to have a quiet beer at home watching the footy than live it up at a fancy restaurant. But there’s no doubt he cares about what he does: he had a suit made for this year’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in Britain and says Black Caviar likes a bit of raw egg in her feed.
On the eve of what could be his most successful spring racing campaign yet, Moody spoke to CPA Australia CEO Alex Malley about juggling the needs of 800-odd direct stakeholders with the easy part of his job – training the horses.
Malley: What are your favourite memories from childhood?
Moody: The freedom of growing up in the bush. It was make your own fun, it was nothing controlled. I’d leave the house at 6am and come home at 6pm and you just found something to do all day, growing up on a cattle and sheep property.
Malley: So horses became an obvious choice for life?
Moody: Horses were always part of my life. I did the usual pony club, gymkhana-type thing like most kids growing up in the bush, then graduated to a love of thoroughbreds and racehorses.
Malley: What are your fondest memories of Tommy Smith?
Moody: I spent my formative years in Sydney. I moved there just before my 15th birthday to work for the great Thomas Smith. He was a chirpy little man and obviously the master of his trade. It was a great learning curve. The beautiful thing about Randwick was there were so many great trainers – Neville Begg, Bart Cummings, Tommy Smith – all at the one track, so you could work for one and learn off three or four.
Malley: In corporate Australia you manage your business for your shareholders. In your business, you manage your horses for their owners. It’s no different?
Moody: You’re managing an investment. It’s a hobby to some people, but it’s a damn expensive hobby and it’s a damn big business to others and you’ll manage it as an investment. I’ve got horses here worth A$2000 and horses worth A$5 million … you’ve got to manage that asset and try to maximise it – much the same as any business, really.
Malley: You have a very straight-shooting style.
Peter: I’ve built a reputation in my business for being very black-and-white and that’s probably stood me in good stead. Sometimes you can be truthful with a man, but you can’t tell him his horse is slow. They don’t handle it real well, even more so if they’ve bred it. But you’ve got to. The cheapest part about horses is the purchase price, then they get dearer every day. You’ve got to give them a feed, you’ve got to put a rider on their back, put a rug on them. You’ve got to make a conscious decision to stop and cut that loss if necessary.
Malley: Syndicated ownership has opened access to more people. Are you a fan?
Moody: It’s very good in Australia versus a lot of other parts of the world. Joe Bloggs, the brickie’s labourer, can end up with a champion racehorse. We’ve just been to Royal Ascot and the average man on the street there can’t – it’s the “sport of kings”. In Asia it’s the sport of the extremely wealthy. In America I understand it’s quite similar.
Malley: Another part of business is picking talent, but in your case it’s horse flesh. What were your first instincts when you saw Black Caviar?
Moody: I loved her, but it’s easy to say that in hindsight. What I paid for her, which compared to a lot of horses is not expensive, was A$210,000.
Malley: Did you see something in the way she moved?
Moody: Yeah, I did. She had issues and faults, which she still has to this day, but I backed her athletic ability to overcome those. You buy the perfectly formed horse, it’s usually that slow it ends in the showroom. You’ve got to buy horses that have an X factor. She’s got so much power. When you’re buying fillies, you predominantly buy them to race against other fillies. She dwarfs most of her male opposition and in racing she gets an allowance off them because she’s a female, so it’s a massive advantage.
Malley: As the trainer and coach of the quintessential athlete, off you go to London ... what’s going through your mind?
Black Caviar has created public interest over and beyond our wildest dreams. She has brought people back to the races.– Gai Waterhouse
Moody: I’m thinking like every good coach – when things turn bad, I’m going to be the one that gets kicked to death. The captain doesn’t get sacked, the players don’t get sacked – it’s the coach.
With her you’re managing a national icon. She’s created interest in racing that hasn’t been there for decades in my career. She’s become something of a national treasure. For the first time ever, they held a government function in Parliament House for a horse. I had a call from the Prime Minister’s office last November that the Queen wanted to see her, but unfortunately it couldn’t be fit into the schedule. It’s unparalleled in modern times.
Malley: In terms of Peter Moody, the man and the trainer with broad ambitions, what are your drivers?
Moody: That’s the unique thing about me – I don’t have ambition. My ambitions have been to provide successfully for my family. I don’t have an outrageous lifestyle, I’d have dinner in the city two to three times a year, I’d have lunch seven to eight. I can retire tomorrow and own my own house and property and not need a lush lifestyle. I sit at home, have a smoke and XXXX Gold and go to the local footy club. I’m the simplest, easiest-going bloke in the world.
When a new client comes to my stable, I say: If you need someone to hold your hand and piss in your pocket, you’ve got the wrong bloke. If you need someone to do the right thing by your horse and not rob you, you’ve got the right bloke. I’m not a goal-setter. Why set yourself up for a fall? I have the same approach to my clients, I go softly-softly. I’d rather them go to a race meeting and be excited when their horse runs well than go there and expect them to run well and be disappointed.
Malley: How many horses would you manage at any one time?
Moody: Probably upwards of 250, and in that there might be 800 clients, from people who might own 20 of them to people who might only own a 2 per cent share in one. It’s like any business, particularly our business – horses are the easy part, the handling of the people is the hard part.
Malley: For a straight-shooter, that’s a lot of people to talk to.
Moody: One of my big downfalls is I’m not really a people person. I feel comfortable talking to a crowd, but when I get off the stage I’d rather walk outside, have a smoke and have a beer on my own.
I go to the races and my clients are getting entertained by other trainers. I’m down with the horses. I’ve had dinner with the owners of Black Caviar three times. Maybe four. And this is the world’s best racehorse. I didn’t go to the after-party in London. I had two mates and a driver, and we went to Newmarket, went to the pub and ate pizzas. We’d just won the biggest race in the world that day. That’s Peter Moody. Like it or lump it.
Malley: What were the broad precautions you tried to take in the risk management of that trip?
Moody: We’re dealing with a live animal, there’s so much unpredictability. You’re flying 10,500 miles [17,000km], going to a different environment, different climate, different facility. I can’t cover all bases, I can’t read this horse’s mind, it can’t talk to me. I had my very best work rider and my 2IC (second-in-command) travel with the horse because I couldn’t. I had my head veterinarian travel with the horse – Dr Peter Angus. I wanted someone with her who knew her in and out.
We revolutionised travelling with horses, we put her in a compression suit, which was a first. We made this suit that offset a lot of her weight loss and actually helped her travel a lot better, I believe. But I suppose the biggest risk of all was taking her that far, a world champion racehorse, the first time she’d ever been away from home.
Malley: Were there physical signs in the horse you needed to manage?
Moody: Basically, she was at the end of a long season and due for a break. If she didn’t travel well, it was game over. But she did travel well and the rest, as they say, is history. In hindsight, the past few weeks have shown we underplayed the opposition a bit. Three of the first five over the line have since won very good races by commanding margins. So they were going much better than we anticipated, and that’s why they got so close to her.
Malley: There’s something about a perfect record. It must be for owners and trainer a real temptation [to leave it at that].
Moody: The thing about this horse and why she captures people’s imagination is her aura of invincibility. Once she gets beaten, it’s gone. The owners are guided by me, but I’m going to be the one kicked to death by the general public if she ever tastes defeat.
Malley: Did you have a quiet word in the ear of your world famous student after she won the race?
Moody: I got dragged away by the media and it was two races later before I could get back down to her. You go in the box, give her a pat, give her a kiss. “Well done, thanks for looking after us all again.” But I’m fortunate enough in that I can do that to her every day of her life.
A rare breed
Australian sports journalist Gerard Whateley explains why Black Caviar and her trainer are both members of a rare breed.
There are three elements to the Black Caviar story that lift it above the ordinary great sporting events: one is speed. The whole purpose of a race is to find the fastest and she’s the fastest horse we’ve ever seen. Second is invincibility, which is so often seen as fleeting in sport and yet it has been lasting and it may well be permanent in Black Caviar. And third, she’s risen above racing and even come out of the sporting landscape to become part of our culture. That’s where she compares with Phar Lap and it puts her on a plane with Bradman, Rod Laver and Walter Lindrum.
Peter Moody is a horseman to the soles of his boots. He’s taught himself the ways of horses, he had an old bush trainer to teach him when he was a kid and when he was a teenager he put himself close to the best trainers Australia’s ever seen. In a sport where there tend to be dynasties, he’s a self-made man.
Among other trainers he is regarded as a genius, as someone who is a natural. He understands what eludes other people; it’s like a sixth sense. But he has a firm and guiding hand and has asked a lot of Black Caviar, particularly at Ascot.
He’s not afraid to lose. For Peter, losing is the most natural thing in the world because he loses three times out of four. But what makes him rare is that he wins one time out of four and for a sport like this, that’s amazing.
Gerard Whateley is a broadcaster with ABC Grandstand in Melbourne and the author of Black Caviar: The Horse of a Lifetime. He’s called four Melbourne Cups and 15 of Black Caviar’s 22 wins, including trackside at Ascot.
This article is from the November 2012 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.