Criterion has ability for Opal-Slipper double, says Cleary

Catbird is the only horse in 40 years of racing to win the Black Opal-Golden Slipper double, but it took just one night of partying to lose the trophy for the world's richest two-year-old race.

Now Catbird's trainer, Frank Cleary, thinks Criterion could become the second horse to win the double.

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When Catbird saluted in the 1999 Slipper, the Queanbeyan trainer accomplished a feat none of his peers have managed.

It sparked a week-long party with family and friends, including Canberra Raiders legend Ricky Stuart. The prized trophy for the now $3.5 million race was lost along the way.

''On the Monday I caught up with Ricky Stuart and a few of the footballers and we actually lost the Golden Slipper trophy, found it the next day at Eastlake Football Club,'' he said. ''We were lucky there.''

Cleary had fallen just short of doing the double seven years earlier with Clan O'Sullivan, which was chased down in the home straight to finish second in the Slipper.


While Cleary's name stands alone in the record books, he thinks that could change on Saturday.

He rates the David Payne-trained Criterion, a $13 chance in the Slipper which beat off $9 Slipper second favourite Sidestep in this year's Black Opal, as a serious threat to outright favourite Overreach ($2.40) in Saturday's race at Rosehill.

''David Payne's a real, live chance with Criterion because he won the Black Opal very well and he won very well the other day,'' Cleary said.

''He's got the horse right and he's drawn a good barrier in barrier two, so he's got every chance … especially now that the rain has come. I think the Black Opal form this year has been very strong.

''I know when we won it with Clan O'Sullivan, he got beaten a head in the Golden Slipper, and then Catbird, he met a very strong field, too. That's why I was quietly confident going into the Golden Slipper.''

Cleary also became the first local trainer to win Canberra's Black Opal Stakes when Clan O'Sullivan saluted in 1992.

A Golden Slipper victory by either Criterion or Sidestep would boost the profile of Canberra racing.

It would also help return the Black Opal to its former glory.

When Catbird won, it was a group 2 race, but it has been downgraded twice to listed status.

Cleary has no runners at Thoroughbred Park on Friday, but he has Benny's Jet running at Goulburn on Saturday.

He was hoping Benny's Jet might put his year back on track after some recent bad luck.

''We had to put Gypsy Jack down … and then Zarziboy broke down,'' Cleary said.

''It's been a rough year, things can only improve.''