Opal fields shine with talent, but questions asked over how many will turn up
Preparing for the Black Opal Stakes and Canberra Cup
Track work at Thoroughbred Park in preparation for this Sunday's Black Opal Stakes and Canberra Cup. Photo: Graham Tidy
Canberra Racing Club's punt on combining its two major races - the $250,000 Black Opal Stakes (1200 metres) and $200,000 Canberra Cup (2000m) - into one super day has paid off, with some of the best fields ever seen in the capital nominating for the day's racing.
But Canberra trainer Paul Jones hopes Australia's leading stables afford the city's premier race day the respect it deserves and follow through on their nominations for Sunday's Black Opal Stakes day.
And The Canberra Times understands leading jockey Danny Nikolic will saddle up King Diamond in the Canberra Cup.
Two other listed races - the $100,000 National Sprint (1400m) and $100,000 Canberra Guineas (1400m) - will also be among the eight-race card at Thoroughbred Park.
Yesterday's nominations boast some of the biggest names in the racing industry, including Gai Waterhouse, Anthony Freedman, David Hayes and Peter Moody.
Trainers can nominate their runners at several meetings before considering a range of factors, such as prizemoney, weights, strength of the opposition, barrier draw and weather conditions, to make their final decision.
Acceptances for the Black Opal Stakes day will be released at 9am tomorrow, but trainers can withdrawal up until the morning of the race meeting.
An impressive 34 nominations have been received for the Black Opal Stakes, and those will be culled to a field of 14 plus four emergencies.
The depth is just as strong in the Canberra Cup, with 27 nominations, including 2011 Melbourne Cup runner Niwot and Caulfield Cup third-place-getter Tullamore, to fill 16 places in the barriers.
Jones, who with his mum and training partner Barbara Joseph has No Risque nominated for the Black Opal Stakes, hopes the interstate trainers don't leave organisers in the lurch by choosing other events at the last minute.
''You don't want trainers throwing in six nominations in case Sydney's washed out or something like that and they don't come,'' Jones said.
''If they nominate, you hope they come because you don't want them taking up space of other horses that could race.
''You have four emergencies in each race so you mightn't be going round with full fields.''
The start lists for the Black Opal Stakes and the Guineas are ranked by prizemoney, while the Cup and the Sprint are handicaps.
Cavalry Rose is the first two-year-old into the Opal with the Ryan-trained filly racking up more than $236,000 in prizemoney from her two starts.
The Waterhouse-trained Later Gator, Freedman's Armed For Action and Mama's Choice from Hayes are other Sydney and Melbourne-based raiders keen to take home the ACT's premier race.
Queanbeyan trainer Neville Layt will saddle up Red Excitment in a bid to keep the Opal within the territory.
''The Black Opal's going to be very hard for a local to win,'' Jones conceded. ''A Sydney horse is probably stronger and our main chances are in the other races.''
Zavite, Tullamore and Niwot - eighth in Australia's richest race last year's - headline Cup nominations.
Canberra Racing Club chief executive Peter Stubbs was extremely happy with the nominations and said having trainers nominating their horses for several meetings was the norm in the industry.
''It's shaping up as an exceptional race meeting,'' Stubbs said.
''When you restructure a race meeting like we've done, there's always a thought in the back of your mind that it mightn't work.''
''The line-up of the leading stables throughout the country, especially from Sydney and Melbourne, is very good. All we need now is for the weather to hold out and the acceptances to hold up.''
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