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Last hurrah for horse racing's returning superstar Black Caviar?

updated 8:02 AM EST, Fri February 15, 2013
Australian mare Black Caviar may have been out of action for eight months, but she still remains one of the top-rated race horses in world, boasting an unblemished 22-win record. Australian mare Black Caviar may have been out of action for eight months, but she still remains one of the top-rated race horses in world, boasting an unblemished 22-win record.
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  • Horse racing's greatest sprinter, Black Caviar, returns to track after long absence
  • After nailbiting Ascot win, Australian mare competes for first time in eight months
  • Depending on outcome at Lightning Stakes, it could be one of her last races
  • Champion thoroughbred could have profitable future as breeding mare

(CNN) -- She graced the cover of Vogue, launched a best-selling biography and was named Australian Sportswoman of the Year.

Quite impressive, considering this was her "time off work." Even more so, given she's a race horse.

Champion thoroughbred Black Caviar hasn't competed since her dramatic win at Britain's Royal Ascot eight months ago but that hasn't diminished the hype surrounding the world's greatest sprinter, who remains undefeated in a staggering 22 consecutive races.

Now, after a long absence due to muscle injury, the six-year-old mare is set to return to the track in what could well prove her D-Day race.

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"We're all hoping she wins on Saturday," co-owner Colin Madden told CNN. "But the real benefit is she doesn't read the newspapers so she doesn't know the pressure is on."

Her performance at the Lightning Stakes, in her hometown of Melbourne, will determine if this is the last hurrah of a stellar career.

"If things go really well, we've got around two or three more races left in her," Madden said.

And if she doesn't live up to expectations?

"We'll just have to see. The fact she got 22 wins without losing, and the affection Australians have for her, means our respect for her is so high. None of us want to see her race if she can't present herself well."

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It will be a defining race for a horse who appeared "tired and cranky" in her most recent win at the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in June.

Black Caviar, worth almost $7 million in prize money, barely nudged ahead of the tightly fought pack. It was later revealed she had muscle strain in her legs which would put her out of action -- until now.

"She was courageous the way she won at Ascot," Madden said. "It was at the end of a very long run of competitions -- she'd had five races that year and a trip to the UK."

Healed and rested after an eight-month break, Madden says we'll see a return to the Black Caviar of old on Saturday -- not the mare who scrambled over the finishing line in front of a sellout crowd of 80,000 at Ascot.

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"She's fully recovered. She's got a glint in her eye and her mind and body are strong," he added.

She appeared back on top form during a training run in Melbourne last week, with bookmakers already placing the two-time Lightning Stakes winner as the favorite for Saturday's race.

Depending on her performance, Black Caviar could next compete at a handful of races across Australia in the coming months, including Newmarket in Melbourne and the T.J. Smith Stakes in Sydney, said Madden.

But a return to Ascot was unlikely, he added.

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Since demolishing the field in her first major win at the Danehill Stakes in 2009, an air of mystique has followed world champion thoroughbred.

The superstar mare, who even has her own Twitter handle, has not just won all 22 of her races -- with the exception of Ascot she has won them by staggering margins, destroying world-class fields to become one of the top-rated race horses on the planet.

Her unblemished record is the second highest of all time, trailing behind only Hungarian horse Kincsem, which apparently took 54 races in the late 1800s.

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Beyond the track, Black Caviar may also have a profitable career as a breeding mare, with managing owner Neil Werrett last year hinting that champion British thoroughbred Frankel could be a good match.

Frankel, who wrapped up his stellar career in the Champion Stakes at Ascot with an unblemished 14-win record, has now been put out to stud -- with big returns expected for owner Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah.

The top-rated race horse in the world is expected to start his new duties this month, commanding a fee of $160,000 each time he sires a foal.

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Win or lose on Saturday, one thing is certain -- Black Caviar has already cemented her place in the hearts of Australians.

More than 10,000 people packed into Melbourne's Federation Square to watch her Ascot triumph on the big screen in June, her biography has sold 50,000 copies, and in December she became the first horse to grace the country's Vogue magazine.

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