Payne's colt fulfils Slipper criteria with Opal win
Trainer David Payne chats with jockey Glyn Schofield after the Black Opal Stakes. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
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David Payne has little time for history and is looking to be the first trainer since Queanbeyan's Frank Cleary to pull off the Black Opal-Golden Slipper double.
The Rosehill trainer always said Criterion was his horse for the $3.5 million Golden Slipper on April 6, and now he's there.
He said it was just the colt's ''quality'' that convinced him the son of Sebring was destined for the world's richest race for two-year-olds.
After settling well back and wide, Criterion ($5) proved too strong for Peter Snowden's Sidestep ($3.80) in a battle down the home straight, edging him out by a long neck, with the Matthew Dale-trained Meticulously 3¼ lengths away third.
It was the start of a running feature double for jockey Glyn Schofield, who is South African-born like Payne.
Not only did Schofield claim the $250,000 Black Opal, but he saluted in the Canberra Cup on Court Connection for Goulburn trainer Danny Williams.
History says Payne faces an uphill battle to win the Slipper. Only one other horse has done the Black Opal-Slipper double, and that honour falls to Cleary with Catbird in 1999.
The colourful Queanbeyan trainer almost did it with Clan O'Sullivan in '92, but he was run down by Burst in the Slipper.
Snowden's Epaulette won last year's Opal, but finished last in the Slipper before going on to win the group 1 Golden Rose in the spring.
But Payne has little time for history. All he knows is the Black Opal prizemoney has qualified Criterion for the Slipper. ''I just wanted him to qualify, I don't care about history and all that,'' he said.
''I know the horse is good and history repeats itself … I wanted to qualify and you've got to get the money, otherwise you don't get in. Now we can relax and if we don't want to run him [again before the Slipper], we can gallop him.''
Payne will not finalise Criterion's build-up to the Slipper until he sees how the colt pulls up after his victory.
First prize of $156,500 took Criterion's earnings to more than $214,000 - guaranteeing him a Slipper berth - and allowing Payne to pick and choose where, and if, the colt needs to start in the lead-up to the Slipper.
From the start of his campaign, Payne had Criterion pegged for the Slipper, believing he was up there with the best two-year-olds in the land.
''He's just got the ability, he's got the attitude and so much improvement in him,'' Payne said.
Canberra's Dale was stoked with the run of the third-placed Meticulously's run.
Meticulously jumped from the outside gate and despite travelling wide, was still able to run into the placings for top local jockey Brendan Ward.
''He obviously got caught three deep on a limb again, no luck from the wide gate,'' Dale said.
''Outstanding [run]; 40-1 [and] he ran third in the Black Opal. He sat three deep with no cover. His run was outstanding.
''We thought he'd run well. We thought he was a genuine top-three hope and if he had a barrier we really thought that, so he's done a great job.''
Dale said a spell might be in order before bringing Meticulously back for a spring campaign.
There were no thoughts about an attempt on the Golden Slipper.
The Black Opal was the fourth run of his campaign, which includes a debut win at Wagga Wagga in early January and a third at Thoroughbred Park two weeks ago.
''We'll wait and see how he pulls up, but I really think he might go for a spell and make a good early three-year-old up to a mile [1600 metres],'' Dale said.
''We'll just see how he recovers from this.''