By Stuart McDill
SYDNEY (Reuters) - A win in Saturday's Diamond Jubilee Stakes will not only strengthen Black Caviar's claim as the world's best sprinter but may also boost an Australian designer's hopes of an Olympic stamp of approval for his unique equine compression suit.
The champion Australian mare sported the snug outfit on her flight to England earlier this month, with her trainer Peter Moody talking up its benefits ahead of the prestigious 1,200 metres sprint at Royal Ascot.
The garment, invented by Matt Spice, a man with no previous experience of either horses or making clothes, is designed to replicate the compression trousers now worn by all top flight human athletes.
"There's been many different studies done in human garments from NASA to just about every sports journal in the world," Spice told Reuters. "And no-one's ever picked up the pieces with horses and I understand why.
"Horses are very difficult to work with. You just can't bend their legs and put them into a suit."
Graduated compression suits work by helping the circulation of blood. When the heart pumps blood down to the legs, the tight fitting suit increases the pressure on the muscles, easing the flow of blood back to the heart.
The effect is to increase the amount of oxygen reaching the muscles and helps to flush out lactic acid after exercise. It also helps protect the muscles from vibration -- which is why Black Caviar was dressed like a super-hero before her long-haul flight from Australia.
"This mare has always been quite susceptible to soft tissue injuries, muscle tears and the like and also the fact she's going to be standing in a horse box for some 30-odd hours en-route," said Moody before her departure.
Five-year-old Black Caviar is unbeaten in 21 starts, having amassed nearly $6 million in prizemoney and become a household name in Australia.
She won her first start as a two-year-old in Melbourne and her fame has steadily grown with each win to the point where her appearances at usually sleepy race meetings attract enormous crowds.
Spice literally dreamt up the idea for the suit after being given a pair of compression trousers.
He went on to form the company ‘Hidez', develop the suit and gain a worldwide patent on the concept. He struggles to believe his invention is adorning a horse that bookies have installed as hot favorite to win one of the world's most glamorous races.
"It's probably the pinnacle of thoroughbred racing," Spice said. "So, to have her travelling, flying her 30-hour journey in the suit, arriving there safe and sound and then winning a race, even just arriving safe and sound would be good enough."
The potential benefits have not gone unnoticed amongst Australia's equestrian team heading to the London Olympics.
Stuart Tinney, who won Olympic gold with the Australian team in the eventing category, has been trialing the suits on all his horses for some time.
"I am actually feeling a good result from the horses, though," he said.
"They actually feel better and they sort of warm up easier and quicker once you get on and I'm actually getting a lot less of the muscle soreness that you can actually feel in the horse ... just like a massage therapist would feel in a human, you can actually feel that in horses as well."
Tinney's hopes of competing at London were dashed in May when his horse Panamera suffered ligament damage that will keep it out of competition for two months, but the suits have stoked the interest of the Olympic team.
Although yet to be officially sanctioned because of the lack of a peer reviewed study, the team's vet Denis Goulding is intrigued by any edge it may offer.
"(We're) definitely interested as long as it doesn't distract from where we are going at this stage," said Goulding.
"Riders can use it individually and I will monitor what's going on."
(Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)