Attracting another top-notch field for this year's Black Opal will be crucial to the return of group racing to Canberra, says Thoroughbred Park chief executive Peter Stubbs.
Stubbs launched this year's listed $250,000 Black Opal Stakes in Civic on Thursday, which will form part of the second edition of Canberra's ''Super Sunday'' on March 10.
Thoroughbred Park brought together its four listed races - the Black Opal (1200 metres), the $200,000 Canberra Centenary Cup (2000m), the National Sprint (1400m) and the Canberra Guineas (1400m) - last year to form Super Sunday, which was a big success.
As a race for two-year-olds, the Black Opal attracted a strong field and was backed by top trainer Peter Snowden as a genuine lead-up to the $3.5 million Golden Slipper (1200m). The Slipper is the world's richest race for two-year-olds.
Snowden's Epaulette won last year's Opal before going on to become a group 1 winner when he saluted in the Golden Rose at Rosehill last spring. He also ran third behind Black Caviar's half-brother All Too Hard in the Caulfield Guineas (1600m). Sydney trainer John O'Shea's Faustus was second to Epaulette in the Black Opal, with Gai Waterhouse's Later Gator third.
Gerald Ryan, whose fourth-placed Cavalry Rose also went on to become a black-type winner, and Anthony Cummings were other Sydney trainers who travelled down the Hume Highway to tackle Canberra's premier race.
A listed race is the level below group 3, with group 1 the pinnacle.
Stubbs wants to return the Black Opal to group status and another equally strong field will add further weight to that push.
''We're aiming to have a top-class field again and if we achieve that this year we'd be in a strong position to seek group 3 status for the Black Opal, there's no doubt about that,'' he told The Canberra Times.
There's one two-year-old race as part of an eight-race meet at Thoroughbred Park on Friday.
With most runners having their first jump-out, earning a place in the Black Opal could be a tough ask.
Stubbs said Black Opal day wasn't just about the racing, despite the $766,000 prizemoney up for grabs on the track.
Kiwi band Evermore will perform throughout the day, before rocking the Canberra racecourse from 5.30pm when the racing's done.
There'll also be a record $20,000 worth of prizes for the fashions on the field and the Girls Girls Girls trick riding team will also be in action.
With the ACT Brumbies playing arch-rivals NSW Waratahs at Canberra Stadium the night before, a $30 combined ticket for the rugby union and the racing is being offered.