Legendary race caller Tony Campbell commentated 25 consecutive Black Opals, but none gave him greater joy than Clan O’Sullivan’s victory in 1992.
In winning the Black Opal, the Clan – as the thoroughbred became affectionately known – had become the first locally trained horse to win the Opal Preview and Opal double.
The whole Clan ‘family’ were, by this time, household names including the American millionaire owner Ken Jones and local trainer Frank Cleary.
Ken organised buses to Sydney for Canberrans when the Clan raced in the Golden Slipper such was the interest in the horse.
Clan O’Sullivan and Ken Jones are no longer with us, the Clan passing away at the age of 18 years in 2007 while Ken died a year later aged 90 years.
Frank Cleary is still going strong in his 70s, and still training.
Fittingly, in the lead-up to the running of the 50th anniversary of the Group 3 Black Opal on 12 March next year, the Canberra Racing Club has unveiled the 400 thousand-dollar Canberra Speed Series.
The three-race series will start with the Clan O’Sullivan on 30 December followed by the Black Opal Preview on 24 February, culminating in the Black Opal. There is a bonus of $100,000 to the owners of any horse who wins all three races.
In his heyday the Clan would have been odds-on to take out all three.
Frank Cleary said it was great recognition of a great horse.
“He was the first local winner of the Preview and Black Opal double and that came with plenty of pressure I’ll tell you,” he said.
The people of Canberra had backed it to the hilt.
Canberra Racing Club CEO Darren Pearce said the Clan O’Sullivan on 30 December would attract quality two-year-olds from the region and interstate, with the series culminating in the biggest race on the local racing calendar.
“The Group 3 John McGrath Auto Group Black Opal Stakes holds an important place on the autumn racing calendar,” Darren said. “There are many great races in the nation’s capital but the Black Opal Stakes is the most exciting.”
As a preview into the future, Darren Pearce said the club was working on a number of big projects and was excited about the year ahead.
For many racing fans, the year ahead will start with the race named after a great horse, the Clan O’Sullivan.