An estimated $9 million will be wagered on Sunday’s Black Opal Stakes day, but a lot more is riding on Canberra’s most important race meeting in a decade.
Sunday’s Black Opal will determine whether the jewel in Canberra Racing’s crown will return to group 3 status.
Canberra Racing is also aiming to have the listed Canberra Cup (2000 metres) upgraded, to give it two group races on its biggest day of the year, now dubbed Super Sunday.
The Black Opal (1200 metres) for two-year-olds and $200,000 Cup form part of Thoroughbred Park’s biggest day, and are two of four listed races which also include the Canberra Guineas (1400 metres) and the National Sprint (1400 metres).
Super Sunday was born two years ago when Canberra Racing combined its two biggest races – the Black Opal and Canberra Cup – into one big meeting.
It has been a success and Canberra Racing plans to continue it. Crowds jumped from 7000 in 2011 to 10,000 for the first running of Super Sunday, and climbed to almost 12,000 last year.
Corporate bookings are up 23 per cent on 2013 and, at a time when TAB turnover is declining, the TAB’s betting turnover on Black Opal Day has risen 13 per cent since the merger.
Now more than $830,000 in prizemoney is up for grabs.
Canberra Racing has been thrilled with the turnaround.
”The formation of Super Sunday came about through an overall assessment of our feature race meetings,” Canberra Racing chief executive Peter Stubbs said.
”The Canberra Cup race was maintaining its status but the race day had lost its impact, the positioning of the day in October and then November meant it competed with the Melbourne Cup Day race meeting for corporate bookings and public attendance and generally the day was in decline and expensive to promote.
”Black Opal Stakes day, while it was still a significant race day and event, it was flat-lining and needed a boost.”
While the formation of Super Sunday has been a huge success, Stubbs wants a group race to return to the nation’s capital.
The Black Opal has been a group 2 and group 3 race in the past, but currently has a listed status – the third level below Australia’s big group 1 races.
It lost group 3 status after the 2005 running, when Al Samer saluted. A race’s status is determined by its prizemoney and rating – a number determined by how the first four horses across the line perform during the racing calendar from July 1 to June 30.
The Black Opal needs to rate higher than 100 for three straight years to be upgraded to group 3.
It has met that mark the past two years and if it does it again 2015 will see group racing return to the ACT for the first time since 2005.
With two-year-olds having their biggest races in late autumn, for the Black Opal to rate well its runners need to excel once they have competed in Canberra. The 2012 winner, Epaulette, finished second in the group 2 Todman Stakes and went on to win the group 1 Golden Rose the following season. Last year’s first two, Criterion and Sidestep, finished first and lost the rider respectively in the Todman, and then sixth and second in the $3.5 million Golden Slipper – the world’s richest race for two-year-olds.
If the Black Opal can have another strong field on Sunday it will be upgraded, because the prizemoney is enough to satisfy group 2 status. If it fails to make the required rating, then it is back to the drawing board. It makes this edition the most important Black Opal in the past decade.
”In terms of group 3, this year’s make or break,” Stubbs said. ”If we don’t get to group 3 this year, we’re back to having to reach that level for three consecutive years.”
Stubbs also has his eye on getting the Canberra Cup upgraded to group 3.
It needs to rate at least 105 over three years to achieve that, which is the mark it met last year when Court Connection saluted.
The Cup needs to achieve the same rating this year and in 2015 to be elevated.
”We need to get across the line this year before concerning ourselves with a group 2 rating in coming years,” he said.
”However, the upgrading of the Canberra Guineas to listed status in 2010 and the creation of Super Sunday with the Canberra Cup on the program has given the race meeting impetus and having two group races on the program is an objective I think we should set for the future.”