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Gai chasing elusive Black Opal

Not many feature races have eluded the grasp of the first lady of racing, Gai Waterhouse. While the Black Opal Stakes fits in that category as of today, it may not by the end of the 2023 Canberra Racing Carnival.

17 talented two-year-olds have accepted into Sunday’s Group 3 John McGrath Auto Group Black Opal Stakes (1200m) at Thoroughbred Park with Gai, and Co-Trainer Adrian Bott, holding a great hand in the race.

The Waterhouse & Bott partnership will present two live chances in the Black Opal Stakes, a race that Gai’s father T.J. Smith won three times, with Autumn Ballet ($2.90 with TAB) and The Years ($4.20) currently sitting on the first two lines of betting.

Autumn Ballet, a debutant by first season site The Autumn Sun, produced an eye-catching performance at the trials when winning by almost eight lengths. She has drawn Barrier Seven with last year’s Darren Beadman Medallist Tim Clark engaged for the ride.

Emma Reeves, Racing Manager for Gai & Adrian, was thoroughly impressed by what she saw of the filly.

“Our original plan with her was a maiden about ten days after the Opal but we were so impressed and thought this race suited perfectly.” Reeves said.

“She’s come on really well since that trial, so the team is really hopeful that she’ll be able to pick up some black-type this weekend.” 

The Years will be ridden by Regan Bayliss and has drawn alongside his stablemate in barrier eight. A colt by Time Test, The Years has race experience on his side after a dominant five length victory last start at Kembla Grange.

“This is a colt that Gai & Adrian had a really high opinion of from an early age.” Reeves said.

“He was good at the trials and then last start just proved what we thought we knew from early on. The sectionals he rattled home in were exceptional.”

“1300m back to 1200m certainly isn’t something that we’d normally do, like we’ve done with The Years here but after his performance last start, we were confident about stepping him up into stakes company.”

It may be a weekend in the Nation’s Capital to remember for Gai & Adrian, with last year’s TAB Canberra Cup (2000m) winner Sacramento returning to defend his crown.

“He’s a horse that always improves the deeper he gets into his preparation.” Reeves said.

“He’s slowly building and being the winner of this race last year, we think he’s going to be really hard to beat on Monday.”

Sacramento sits on the second line of betting with TAB and is currently a $4.40 chance. Tim Clark takes the ride.

The stable is confident of a successful couple of days in Canberra, but it is one of their chances in a supporting race that has Emma Reeves the most excited.

“My great interest across the Carnival is actually Yarrawonga who drops in class significantly to a Class 1 & Maiden Plate.” Reeves said.

“He’s well weighted and has been working really well for us. I think he is very much over the odds over 2000m first up.

Yarrawonga will line up in the Seppelt Plate (2000m), Race Nine on John McGrath Auto Group Black Opal Stakes Race Day – Sunday, 12 March.