There was a time when Australian jockey Luke Nolen could barely sit down for a cup of coffee that someone would ring him to ask about Black Caviar.
Nowadays, racing scribes don’t snap at his heels like they used do. Black Caviar, the unbeaten mare who put him on the world map, is now busy being a mum and her trainer Peter Moody, Nolen’s No 1 supporter during the legendary mare’s era, has retired after the cobalt case.
Suddenly, the Manangatang native felt like a superhero who had lost his superpowers. He was again just an average Joe who had to start from scratch and go chasing his own rides.
The Black Caviar afterlife was tough. From the “black gold” spread, he was back to vegemite on toast.
The road ahead was already tough as it was, but spinal injuries and a horror fall at Morphettville last year threw a few more spanners in the works.
But with his wife Alicia’s unflinching support, Nolen picked himself off the canvas more than once, and things have started to turn around. Better support from other trainers like David Hayes/Tom Dabernig, Darren Weir and Aaron Purcell soon led him back to Group limelight, with the phone ringing a bit more often.
Just two weeks ago, the Melbourne hoop landed the Group 2 Sandown Guineas aboard Villermont. A little earlier, he won the Group 1 Thousand Guineas with another exciting prospect in tiny filly Aloisia. Both are trained by Purcell, who recently took over the currently suspended Ciaron Maher.
No doubt they were not quite Black Caviar days revisited, but it was clear that Nolen was again a sought-after name.
“Things have been frustrating with injuries and especially after Peter Moody retired,” said Nolen.
“But it’s getting better now. Last Spring was pretty busy and I won the Thousand Guineas with Aloisia.
“Black Caviar was a once-in-a-lifetime mare, but if there is one horse I’m pretty excited about, it has to be Villermont, with whom I just won a Sandown Guineas.
“I think next year could be a good year for me, and hopefully Villermont is the horse to help me win a few races.”
As a token of his revival and a proof he was still a big name, Nolen was this week lured to sunny Mauritius, where he will pit his skills against 11 other riders from around the world at the Air Mauritius & Attitude International Jockeys’ Weekend 2017 on December 2 and 3.
At the draw ceremony at The Ravenala Attitude Hotel on Wednesday night, Nolen sat among six of the other jockeys on hand (five land on Thursday) along with wife Alicia, looking a little bleary-eyed from the 14-hour flight from Melbourne - and probably from those dazzling flashbulbs again!
Nolen is known for being rather self-effacing. Even during Black Caviar’s juggernaut, he would rather jump on and let the mighty mare do all the talking during the 22 of her undefeated run of 25 wins than fielding 1,001 questions at those incessant media scrums.
It was no different in Mauritius. As soon as the draw was a wrap, he quickly headed for the exit, anxious to find his room and hit the sack.
But when you are Black Caviar’s rider, the spotlight will find you no matter what. Years of PR savviness giving spiels about the black mare saw him slip back under that cloak rather snugly in spite of his slight gaucheness.
After all, Nolen is not a complete newbie to such jockeys’ challenges.
“I’ve ridden in the Shergar Cup in 2010 and won one race (Set The Trend). I’ve also ridden in Hong Kong and Japan jockeys’ series,” he said.
“I’ve obviously heard about Mauritius and its jockeys series before. It’s a great honour to be here and I’m really looking forward to the weekend even if I don’t know at all how good my rides are.
“Luke Currie is a good mate of mine and he had a lot of success here. He spoke with me about how to ride the track and so did Stevie Arnold who is already back in Melbourne.
“I’ll probably walk the track on Saturday, speak to a few trainers before the race and I should be right. Alicia and I will also enjoy this beautiful island.”