QUEANBEYAN trainer Joe Cleary has likened the build up to this Sunday’s Black Opal Stakes to the year his dad Frank won Canberra’s richest race with Catbird in 1999.
Frank Cleary has won the Opal twice before; with Catbird in 1999 and Clan O’Sullivan in 1992. He is one of only two Queanbeyan trainers to achieve the feat along with Neville Layt and Sarthemare in 2008.
But ahead of this Sunday’s 41st running of the $275,000 race, it’s Joe Cleary who will be flying the Queanbeyan flag with Quietly Brilliant.
The highly fancied son of Alert has had just three starts to date but impressed immediately after winning by seven lengths on debut in Canberra last November.
And the younger Cleary said the vibe around the stables leading into the Opal had been reminiscent of the last time the family name was etched onto local racing’s most sought after piece of silverware.
“This is a very similar vibe to Catbird’s win,” Joe Cleary said. “Everyone around town is talking about him and people want to know how the horse is going.
“You’ve got a country trainer and a country jockey [Nick Souquet] teaming up to try and win it and the horse is telling me he’s ready to go to the races.
“Dad’s won it a couple of times so it’d be great to get the Cleary name back on the honour board and that’s why I’ve aimed him at this race. So there won’t be any excuses come Sunday, I don’t care what else runs in it.”
Despite having accrued an impressive training record in his time at Queanbeyan, Cleary has only ever had one previous crack at the Opal with My Gal Dominion finishing at the back of the field in 2000.
“I like to look after my two-year-olds and not rush them but this horse, he’s been a bit of an exception to the rule,” Cleary said. “He basically told me after I broke him in that he was going to race early and that’s exactly how it’s panned out.”
Quietly Brilliant’s last start resulted in a third-place finish in the Lightning Ridge Plate (1000m) at Canberra last month; the traditional lead in race to the Black Opal.
But Cleary said he was confident the two-year-old would be running at full gallop come Sunday after going into the Plate underdone.
Cleary also confirmed he would stick with country jockey Nick Souquet for the ride.
Souquet has ridden Quietly Brilliant in each of his starts to date but Sunday will mark the hoop’s first appearance in the Opal.
“He’s a bomb-proof horse to ride,” Souquet said of Quietly Brilliant’s chances on Sunday. “He puts himself in the right spots and if we have a bit of luck on the weekend he should be there at the finish.”