So Theo can say, “I saw Black Caviar”

My late father used to talk of seeing Bradman bat. I don’t think he saw him in a Test match; it’s more likely to have been a Shield match or two at the Adelaide Oval. I think he was at his testimonial match.

He took me to see a game of footy in Melbourne when I was about four: Geelong v St Kilda at Moorabbin. I have tried to work out which match it was. But I can say I saw Polly Farmer play. I don’t remember much of the day.

Last Saturday. We live in a busy household  and have much to do. But I want to take Theo, who is five and has just started prep, to see the Lightning at Flemington. I want him to be able to say when, God willing (as my father would say), he reaches a good age, “I saw Black Caviar.”

It’s hot. We spend the morning doing jobs about the house, and then try to assemble a trampoline (which gets the better of us) in the midday sun.

At three o’clock, with time getting away, Theo and I head down the street to Merri Station. Theo likes the train. He puts his very-engaged face on and looks out the window. When he was very young he called all racehorses Black Caviar and when he saw spots sometimes he would say ‘Black Caviar’. He has been to the races before. He associates the races with fizzy drink and jumping castles.

We have to get off the train at Clifton Hill as there is no service to Flinders St. We are bussed to Parliament Station. We have to wait for ten minutes. It’s half past three already. We are told to get off at Spencer Street and go to Platform 14 for the races train. It arrives but just flies through. It’s nearly four. Will we make it? It becomes an adventure. Theo and I run to Spencer Street. There is a line of people at the taxi rank. We walk west and finally pick up a cab. The driver understands the urgency and takes off, getting us to the track at quarter past four.

We get in, and find Wally Beaver. I introduce Theo and they shake hands. I have a bet. Theo’s cheeks are flushed from running in the heat and he needs a drink which we get at the Bernborough Bar. Solo-coke, as we call it in our household. It’s his second favourite behind Sun-kist.

We make our way through the undercroft. Theo points to a lady wearing a frock in Black Caviar’s colours. And then a tie on a bloke also walking our way.

On the lawns we are among the throng. There are a lot of families. Flags. Caps. Proud Dads. I’m not sure of the origin of the pride, but I feel it too. Like the moment is so incredibly positive that the world is wonderful.

It is too crowded around the mounting yard so we take up a position four-deep at the 100 metre mark. It’s like the Sermon on the Mount scene from The Life of Brian: something is happening over there, but we can’t see what, and our focus becomes on where we are. I have Theo on my shoulders, his drink is in my hand. I notice heaps of kids, and a lot of them have been lifted up by dads who point at the big screen.

“What number is Black Caviar?” I ask.

“Number six.”

The horses make their way along the path. Their jockeys are just visible above the heads.

“Here she comes.”

There is applause. Cameras click. And in an instant she is gone.

I explain where the race is starting and Theo waits until the gates open. We watch the screen. The champion looks comfortable and then accelerates. And here she is. And there she goes.

“She won. She won,” I say. “Did you see her Theo?”

“Yes,” says Theo. “Can I have my drink back now?”

People are taking photos of each other – especially of kids on shoulders.

The applause starts as Black Caviar comes back. It is the most delightful applause: respectful, loving. It is not a cheer.

A young bloke who had been arguing with his wife (“You put $10,000 on Black Caviar? No. No.”) is now extremely popular with her.

We watch another race but Decircles is not good enough and the double goes under.

Theo and I get the train and then the 112 tram. We stop at the Red Olive and have a pizza each. Theo is wonderful dinner company.

It is a day of memorable warmth: the day we saw Black Caviar win.


About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Lovely sentiments as always John. My dad was an SA country bank manager. My memories are of watching him on the hallowed dirt and malthoid of Monash, Brentwood, Sunbury and Honiton of a Saturday. Then a carload of blokes would drive 4 hours to Adelaide Oval early on Sunday morning to see Sobers, Barry Richards etc. Then drive home the same evening. I reckon I picked up a lot of vernacular listening to the men on those trips.
    Of course it might have been different for Theo if BC had got rolled, though it would have been a truly “unique” event. Certainly for the ordinary bloke who put the Bali holiday money on her.
    For the doubters – Ajax won his first 14 starts as a 2, 3 and 4YO – including all the top 2YO races, then the Newmarket and Futurity as a 3Y0, and the Caulfied Stakes and Cox Plate at 4. Then beaten a half length in the Rawson Stakes at WFA in a 3 horse field at 40/1on!!!
    Danny Nikolic rode the winner!!!
    “Don’t run up stairs or bet odds on” as the great racecaller Ken Howard used to say.

  2. What odds on getting that trampoline together?

  3. Agree with the sentiments John. It had the feel of being privileged to attend a performance by the great mare rather than a race meeting and there would have been thousands others there just to be able to say they saw her race one day.
    Loved the analogy with the Sermon on the Mount scene but I’m pretty sure that was from Life Of Brian (big nose?).

  4. Thanks Budge – yes it was Life of Brian. Correction made.

  5. Blessed are the cheese makers

  6. Peter,
    Ajax didn’t win his first 14 starts. Where did you get that from?

  7. Theo is adorable haha

  8. You are right Budge. I remembered that he got rolled at 1/40 in a three horse race and then had a lamentably quick skim of his record on Wikipedia.
    After being beaten a head in the Victoria Derby he lined up a week later in the Linlithgow Stakes over a mile, which was the start of 18 wins in a row as a 3 and 4 YO until the aforementioned “miss the kick by a dozen lengths and get beaten a neck” Rawson Stakes.
    He won 14 in a row at 4 years of age. You are right – his winning streak was mid career – he suffered a few defeats at 2 and as an early 3YO. He did win the VRC and AJC Sires Produce and Champagne Stakes, and then the Rosehill Guineas as an early 3YO. So his losses were mainly when stretched to a mile and a half at 3 for the Derbies.
    Bing Crosby had part ownership of him at stud in the US after he retired.
    Mea culpa.

  9. David Downer says


    The Hollywood style mad dash will add to such a father/son story as the years pass by. Couldn’t have scripted it any better!

    Our Louisville ‘knacker on course also takes away his own BC memories back to Churchill Downs parts. Glenn and Debbie were more than impressed by the offerings at Flemington. It is absolutely one of the great race-tracks of the world.

  10. Shane Kennedy says

    Although I am not that keen on horse racing, I can still thank my Dad for being able to say, I saw Bonecrusher and patted him on the nose. I was really only there for the soft drinks and a hot dog.

  11. I now have an uncashed $2 win ticket on Black Caviar from a week ago and another on Secretariat, from the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Quite a parlay. Now if I could just get a winner from the Kentucky Derby… (Last was Grindstone in 1996.)

  12. Peter hannan says

    I took my three kids to watch Might and Power in 1998….when they were 7,6 and 3……
    They remembered the jumping castle and the ball-throwing competitions but not a champion winning the Caulfield stakes by two lengths !
    Kids !

  13. Harmsy,
    You’ll get this back in spades. I used to take my son when he was young to
    sporting events. He is now in his 30’s. Very frequently he says, ” Dad remember
    when we went to Windy Hill and Bennett kicked those four goals in the last quarter,
    we lost and you stomped off home.” or ” Dad remember when you’d take me to
    the tennis to watch the Swedes ,Edberg and Matts Willander and I’d go off with the
    Swedish fans, get my face painted in their flag colours ” etc,etc.
    Now he rings me and says, “I’ll meet you in the longroom tonight , just the two of us.”
    The cat’s in the cradle.
    I’m the winner.

  14. My dad took me to see Bruce Laird make 70 at the Adelaide Oval… Just sayin…

  15. John Mitchell says

    Great article as always John. I am reminded of the late Adelaide racecaller, Alf Gard. At 8 years of age he saw Phar Lap win at Morphettville, 82 years later he saw Black Caviar do the same. What a fortunate life. Alf passed away early this year at 91 years of age.

  16. I am sure that all of us who saw her race will truly treasure those memories.
    We won’t see one to match her.

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