Within reach of the Crown

The Sapphire Crown trophy will be up for grabs on Thursday. Pictures: COURTESY OF SANDOWN GREYHOUNDS

Black Opium has one paw on that elusive Group 1 title after a scintillating victory in her Sapphire Crown heat at Sandown Park on Thursday night.

The three-time Group 1 runner-up took full advantage of the vacant box either side of her to lead all the way to defeat Origami Angel by nine-and-a-half lengths.

“She did everything right,” said handler, the Pearcedale-based Seona Thompson.

“She did everything right last week, but she’s even exceeded that and gone a bit better.”

Her winning time of 29.204 was one 1000th of a second faster than the time she ran when she was the fastest qualifier for the 2018 TAB Melbourne Cup.

“When she was coming back from her spell she was trialling really well and I said to Jason (Seona’s husband) I think she might have come back better,” Thompson said.

“She’s different now, she’s a different dog to what she was then, different in herself. She’s very mature and knows what racing is all about now.”

Black Opium has now won over $450,000 in prize money – an Australian record for a greyhound without a feature race win.

Despite drawing Box 4 for the final, she has been installed the $1.80 favourite to claim the $50,000 first prize with tab.com.au.

The first heat of the night went to Talulah Bale who powered past Nangar Diva to score by three lengths in 29.52. Trained by Heather Collins who won the race with Lamia Bale in 2015, Talulah Bale is the daughter of Xylia Allen, which also won the race in 2013.

Madilia Maggie won the second heat in 29.41 for John Connor, defeating Chart Topper. That will give Robin Moore his first runner in a Group 1 final.

With Black Opium winning the third heat, it was over to Spring Fair to claim the night’s final run off for Anthony Azzopardi, leading all of the way to defeat Aston Silk by four-and-a-half lengths in 29.63 – giving Melbourne Cup-winning trainers Azzopardi and Thompson two runners each in the final.

The $71,000, Group 1 Sapphire Crown will be run this Thursday, 14 May.

It’s the first of three Group 1 races to be run over three consecutive weeks at Sandown Park, and the favourites for the two other series also turned in impressive performances.

Harrison-Dawson favourite Tiggerlong Tonk capitalised on drawing Box 1 for just the third time in his 36-start career as the Easter Gift winner was untroubled in recording a three-and-a-half length victory in 29.26, while RSN Sandown Cup favourite Mister Harlewood remains undefeated in four starts over the stayer’s journey, winning by one-and-a-quarter lengths in 41.66.

Those with an appetite for thrilling live sport need look no further than Sandown Park, with a bumper greyhound racing schedule over the coming weeks.

While physical distancing measures are in place at the track, preventing all non-essential personnel – such as crowds – from attending, there will be three Group 1 finals over consecutive weeks.

Along with the addition of a number of key support races, that means the best greyhounds in Australia will effectively call Sandown Park home right through until at least the end of June.

“The Sapphire Crown – for female greyhounds only – on 14 May; the Harrison-Dawson – for male greyhounds only – on 21 May; and the RSN Sandown Cup – for the stayers – on 28 May are three of the sport’s premier races, so to be able to ensure they can be conducted is a fantastic result for owners, trainers and fans of the sport,” Sandown Greyhound Racing Club’s racing and media manager Mick Floyd told the Journal.

“The quality of greyhound racing at the moment is outstanding, so I’m really looking forward to an exciting month of racing.

“The current situation has been tough for everyone, and every business or activity that has been able to continue is important.

“That greyhound racing has been able to continue is testament to both GRV (Greyhound Racing Victoria) for implementing strict race-day protocols and procedures, and to the clubs and participants for adapting to the changes that have been made.”

Crucially, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Sandown Greyhounds has been able to maintain its weekly schedule and prize-money structure – providing some much needed certainty for those involved with the sport.