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Preview winners, how do they stack up on ratings?

With the first two spots filled for the features on Black Opal Stakes Day, how will the preview winners measure up?

 Another Preview Day at Thoroughbred Park is in the books, and the usual question is already being asked: “Do you think they’re a chance on the big day?”

 Since 2010, only four horses have come through the preview races to win a feature event on Opal Day, with all of them being locally trained. It shows that improvement is needed to cross the line first on Black Opal Day; those four winners improved 11.5lbs on average to go from one success to the next.

 The data shows that it takes a certain type of horse to come through the Previews but is there one from the 2024 editions that could take beating come March 10th?

Canberra Cup: Let’s begin with the race every local wants to win – the Cup. Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott’s charge NOTABADBUY ran to a Racing & Sports rating of 85 to win the Canberra Cup Preview, narrowly edging out PIRAEUS for Richard and Will Freedman. Both horses have run slightly better figures than that previously, and neither are well exposed, but the rating is put into context somewhat by the well-established One Aye who ran out of her skin at her first try over 2000m. Going back 20 years, no horse has ever come through the Preview races to win the Canberra Cup, and that doesn’t appear set to change in 2024. The average winning rating of the Canberra Cup currently sits at 107 with R&S, meaning Notabadbuy would have to almost double the average improvement noted above to be winning the Cup. The Canberra Cup has seen a rise in the winning rating since 2019, with the winning rating only falling below 109 once in that time. Mugatoo won in 2020 before going on to win the Newcastle Cup later that year and the All Star Mile in 2021. Group 1 winner Think It Over was back in fourth behind Mugatoo. And who could forget last year’s race, where Arapaho beat Explosive Jack, with both going on to win Group 1 features during the Sydney Autumn Carnival. Though Notabadbuy and Piraeus have some improvement to come ahead of the Canberra Cup, they look unlikely to take the sort of leap required – the data profiles them around the 25-1 mark in the main event. 

Black Opal Stakes: It was hard not to have a smile on your face when local trainer Gratz Vella took out the Black Opal Preview. Although VELLA’S BEST (could be an omen) officially jumped 25-1, he made every post a winner to score over Amazing Eagle by a quarter of a length. Funnily enough, Vella trained the only horse to win the Preview and the Black Opal when You’re Canny defeated Magic Millions winner Karuta Queen in 2011 and he is the easiest comparison to make. You’re Canny ran to a R&S rating of 97 winning the Preview, before going on to run 108 in the Black Opal Stakes of 2011. That is higher than Vella’s Best’s debut victory which returned a rating of 91, but You’re Canny also had more race experience on his side. The general consensus around this season’s two-year-old crop is that they’re stronger than recent years and that is expected to flow through to the Black Opal. While it may take a little more than the average winning rating this year, it would be naïve to think we’ve seen the best of the two-year-old at his debut. Horses improve with racing and there’s little doubt Gratz would’ve left something in the tank so Vella’s Best can be competitive on the big day. 

National Sprint: The National Sprint has seen two of the four Preview-to-feature winners, with Tougherthantherest winning both the Preview and Sprint, and Lebrechaun who ran fourth in the Preview before winning the National Sprint in 2011. Those horses improved 17 and 14 pounds respectively to win their National Sprint’s but both of their Preview efforts shaped very differently to what Demanding Mo faced. By Racing & Sports measure, Demanding Mo posted the fourth-slowest time of the day, no faster than the basic Class 1 handicap run over the same 1200m earlier on the card, as Jack Martin dominated from the front. Keith Dryden has the seven-year-old in career-best form this preparation as the leading trainer attempts to replicate the feats of 2018. Coming out of the Preview, Tougherthantherest was rated 83 with R&S, only just ahead of Demanding Mo’s 81 figure, but the two are in different stages of their careers. The field for the National Sprint can vary year-on-year, but we would need a weak National Sprint, something like what we saw for Tougherthantherest, for Demanding Mo to figure. Demanding Mo is now a well-established horse, and it is hard to say he is capable of better than he has displayed so far. In saying that, racing is a funny game and stranger things have happened. 

Canberra Guineas: The only horse in the last 10 years to do the Preview-Guineas double was the Matthew Dale-trained Rom Baro in 2015, who was the sold to Hong Kong and raced as Kingsfield. Coming out of the Preview victory, Rom Baro was rated 98+ with R&S after his six-length demolition job – a rating he would replicate to win the Guineas itself. The winning rating in 2015 of 98 with Racing and Sports and has gradually improved throughout the years, making the average winning figure 106 since 2010. This year’s Preview winner Direct Fire is rated 78, meaning he will have to raise the bar come March 10th, but he may also have the profile to do so. The Theresa Bateup-trained galloper is still in his first preparation, winning on debut at the Sapphire Coast in November before knocking off the Guineas Preview at his sixth start. The son of Dracarys is untapped and the time he posted when winning the Guineas Preview hinted at him being better than the form on face value. Projections using time data from the Guineas Preview suggest that Direct Fire will have no trouble posting ratings well into the 80s and perhaps even breaking through the 90 barrier. In contrast to the Black Opal, the three-year-old crop is looking rather thin, so the assumption that this year’s Canberra Guineas may be on the weaker side is not completely false. With that being said, both Direct Fire and runner-up Everido would need to improve some 20lbs on their performance in the Preview to be winning a weaker-than-average Canberra Guineas. Both may have the platform to launch from and as stated above, racing is a funny game, so maybe we could see either Direct Fire or Everido in the finish of the Canberra Guineas.


Jaike Altieri

Racing & Sports