By Mick Floyd
The brilliant Black Opium finally shed her bridesmaid tag with victory in the Group 1 Sapphire Crown at Sandown Park on Thursday night.
A firm favourite throughout the series, Black Opium was made to work hard for the win after only beginning fairly and settling third behind Aston Silk and Spring Fair through the first turn.
But Black Opium swept past Spring Fair down the back straight and set off in pursuit of her kennelmate, switching to the rails as they swung for home and powering to the line for a three-quarter length victory in 29.57, much to the relief of handler Seona Thompson.
“She’s finally done it!” she said after Black Opium finally broke through at the highest level of the sport at her seventh attempt.
“It kind of went how we thought. Jason (Thompson, Seona’s husband) had been saying all week that Aston Silk might spoil the party, and when I saw her lead and ‘Sarah’ miss the kick I thought she might. Aston Silk is a magnificent little greyhound, she’s still only young so to run second in a Group 1, I’m sure Ray (Borda, owner) would be thrilled.”
“But ‘Sarah’ did everything right. She railed through and that’s something that we’ve really noticed this preparation – that she is coming from behind and it’s something she wasn’t doing before.”
The win was her 25th from 49 career starts and took her prize money beyond $500,000. Most significantly, it was her first feature race win – remarkable when one thinks that it was 18 months ago when she ran second in the TAB Melbourne Cup. So with a group race win finally on her CV, what’s next for Black Opium?
“We haven’t really planned anything, but she’ll keep racing for as long as she wants to and if she’s still around later in the year we might try again for the Melbourne Cup – who knows,” Thompson said.
“She’ll tell us when she’s had enough but right now, she’s showing how much she wants to be out there.”
The win was trainer Jason Thompson’s 10th Group 1 victory at Sandown Park and second Sapphire Crown success, following Peggy May’s 2012 win.
Since becoming a race restricted to female greyhounds in 2002, the Sapphire Crown has been won by some of the greatest greyhounds to grace the track, including hall of famers Bogie Leigh, Paua To Burn and Xylia Allen; Melbourne Cup winner Betty’s Angel, and Greyhound of the Year Cindeen Shelby.
Three heats of the Group 1 Harrison-Dawson – for male greyhounds – were also run on the night. While series favourites Simon Told Helen and Tiggerlong Tonk won their way through to the final this Thursday (21 May), it was Jax Bale which qualified fastest with a stunning 29.136 gallop – the third fastest time recorded at Sandown Park so far in 2020.