Paddy Bell, the man inspired by three-time Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva and defined by his association with unbeaten champion sprinter Black Caviar, is looking to another mare to deliver him something similarly momentous in Hong Kong this Sunday.
The 30-year-old New Zealand-born horseman has travelled G1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) contender Viddora to Hong Kong, via Dubai, on behalf of the dual Group 1 winner’s owners and her trainer Lloyd Kennewell.
Just as he did for Peter Moody and Black Caviar’s connections when the 25-time winner from as many starts, ventured to Royal Ascot to take the G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) in June 2012.
Bell was Black Caviar’s regular track rider through most of her career. Her constant companion from morning track work to the races to the cargo holds of aircraft which ferried her across the world. He’s fulfilled the same role with Viddora and was the logical choice to do so after joining the Kennewell team about six months ago.
However, his work with Black Caviar - one of the greatest horses of the modern era - has condemned him to the same question repeatedly and one he’s already been asked several times with Viddora. “How does he assess a horse without reference to Black Caviar?”
“Yes, I’m asked that question just about every time I ride a good horse. Simply, I don’t compare them with Black Caviar. I put Black Caviar in a whole different league to all other horses. I try to compare horses based on those a level below that grade and just assess them on how they breathe and how they feel and what I think they might be capable of doing,” he said.
That doesn’t prevent him from offering a detailed assessment, nor making just one reference to Black Caviar, of Viddora, who comes to Hong Kong after running a creditable fourth to Blue Point in the G1 Al Quoz Sprint (1200m) at Meydan in Dubai.
“She’s a strong mare, not overly tall but she’s strong,” Bell says of Viddora, “she’s well-muscled, she’s powerful and carries herself in a beautiful manner. She’s kind on the bridle and she’s got a big stride, obviously not as big as Black Caviar’s but you can’t compare that. Her stride is big, she’s powerful and she breathes fluently with a good set of lungs. All that put together, I think she’s a very good horse.”
Paddy Bell and Viddora (AUS), picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
A glowing enough endorsement although one which doesn’t quite match his first impressions of the Peter Moody-trained sprinting freak, Black Caviar.
“I started riding Black Caviar after she’d already won a few races, maybe six or seven. That first morning, as soon as I sat on her back, I knew there was something special about her. Her walk was different to most horses, she was so powerful and she had a very special demeanour about her. And then when I cantered off around the track, the first thing I noticed was how big her stride was and how easily she covered the ground and the second was I’d never heard a horse breathe as cleanly and as fluently as she did.”
Of course, Viddora may not have to be as good as the arguably incomparable Black Caviar to win Hong Kong’s major springtime G1 Sprint, even if the perception is she’s playing a support role to favourite elect, her fellow Australian-trained runner Santa Ana Lane. Bell thinks she’ll run well.
“I think she was terrific in Dubai. I think she probably might have needed the run a tiny bit. She travelled so well over there and did so well, she’d actually put on a little bit of condition leading into the run and her effort was great on slowish ground as she prefers better ground.
“She was up against horses like Blue Point who’s a world class sprinter who’s already won a King’s Stand at Royal Ascot and the two Americans who finished second and third are very smart horses. She was making ground late and I think her run was terrific. Here on better ground around the corner I think she’ll be very competitive.
“She’s doing really well here. She’s settled in as well as you could hope and doing everything right. She had a little run around the course proper last Tuesday and felt great. She had a good look around and has settled herself in. She’s in good order. I’m happy with her,” he said.
Bell, who was raised near Levin in part of New Zealand racing’s heartland but has been based in Australia for nine years, left Melbourne with Viddora on 18 March but is in no hurry to return home.
“I’d be very happy to keep going,” he said in reference to the possibility that Viddora might head to England for the G1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot should she perform well on Sunday.
“I’ve been to Ascot twice and to go back there again, especially with this mare who travels so well, would be great. I think she’d thrive over there; going into summer with the beautiful daylight and lush grass and good walks. One on one time, with a good horse, at Newmarket is heaven for a groom or track rider like me,” he said.
Bell’s first trek to Royal Ascot was, in 2011, with Black Caviar’s stablemate Hinchinbrook who didn’t make it to post but was to become a highly successful stallion in Australia before his death in July last year after fracturing a leg in an accident.
The recall of that experience and the fact he’s constantly asked about Black Caviar, has Bell readily reminiscing about Black Caviar’s narrow but memorable win at the Royal meeting 12 months later. She won by a head, from the top-class French filly Moonlight Cloud, after jockey Luke Nolen momentarily dropped his hands nearing the finish and trainer Moody later revealed that not all was well with the mare.
“They come up a lot, the memories of Black Caviar and especially in the past six to eight weeks when travelling another horse. I guess people know who I am and the times I had with Black Caviar. Questions are always asked and I don’t mind as every time they bring out the good memories and excitement of the time and I get out a few photos to show. It’s good,” he said.
As to the Ascot expedition itself, Bell says: “Everything was going perfectly fine. Luke (Nolen) galloped her on the Tuesday before the run and she seemed OK and then she had a small, niggling injury by the Thursday. I thought it was touch and go as we had a similar setback with Hinchinbrook the year before and Peter (Moody) scratched him as there was nothing to gain with him being a stallion prospect. It wasn’t worth running him.
“But then, despite the concerns, Peter made the right decision with Black Caviar and we got the job done. It was a small injury, nothing substantial, but it did have some effect on her. She wasn’t 100 per cent, maybe 80 or 90 and I think Peter thought that would be good enough to win the race and it was. I don’t get nervous but everyone around her was nervous. I didn’t want to get nervous because I think it rubs off on the horse,” he said.
Bell concedes the narrow win was greeted with a sense of relief. “Moods’ foreman Tony Haydon and I had a couple of cold beers on the way home and then we settled back into her box. We stayed pretty calm. It was a late night but it wasn’t a messy one. We were more worried about the horse and hoping she’d come through it in one piece.
“Luke was hard done by. We didn’t tell him there were any niggles with her but I think he obviously felt it and looked after her as best as he could. It didn’t look good for him but we know in our hearts he was doing the right thing by her and at the end of the day the horse matters more than anything and we were thankful to him and her for getting the job done,” Bell said.
Black Caviar did get through it in “one piece” and returned to Australia to record a further three Group 1 wins the following year, with Bell still at her side.
“It was an amazing time,” said Bell who didn’t take a keen interest in racing until he was “13 or 14” even though his parents Donald and Helen were involved in the sport, “It was the Glen Boss moments with Makybe Diva winning the three Melbourne Cups that really motivated me to want to be a jockey.”
Bell outrode his claim as an apprentice jockey in New Zealand. “I wouldn’t say I was a great jockey but I had a lot success. I worked for a great trainer Grant Searle who trained some very good horses like Our Maizcay. He taught me a lot which I didn’t think he was teaching me at the time, being a young kid but once I left New Zealand those memories of what he taught me came to the fore,” he said.
And that grounding may well precipitate the next phase of Bell’s career. “It’s in my heart. I’d love to train. But I just know if I was going to do it, I would want to do it big and as fast as possible. I wouldn’t muck around and that scares me a bit to be honest because I know how much money’s involved, how hard it is and the support you need,” he said.
In the meantime, he will content himself with doing the best he can to ensure Viddora presents at her best. “You have to be committed and I love it. Here, In Hong Kong, I get in there early, around six o’clock to give her a little bit of feed before her work and then get her saddled up and warmed up before she works around nine. Then it’s back in for a bit of brekkie, ice her legs, a walk, a shampoo and whatever needs to be done. I hand walk her as one on one time always helps. Whatever she needs,” he said.
And life post Black Caviar?
“I shouldn’t say depressing but it was a loss to racing and a loss to my life obviously. The excitement tapered off a little bit. You have to make the most of it while it’s there. It was good. Life’s been alright. I worked for Ciaron Maher for two and a half years and then Lloyd (Kennewell) offered me a good opportunity there and it’s paid off with the opportunity to travel with this mare so no complaints. I love the travel,” he said.