31 October 2004

History came to Texas when the most famous name in racing became part of the laurels of the Breeders’ Cup. Teddy, the 19th Earl of Derby, stood at the side of Lone Star Park racetrack as his home bred Ouija Board added the Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mares Turf to the English and Irish Oaks which she won in midsummer. Not to be outdone, Frankie Dettori stunningly came up trumps on the Newmarket-trained Wilko in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Colts.

It is 225 years since the 12th Earl won that famous toss of a coin at The Oaks, his Epsom home, and the race that was to become the Derby was named in his honour. This Earl, who says that in America people expect him to be a black jazz singer rather than a racehorse-owning peer, has just one one horse in training; but what a star Ouija Board is. “She won a first race last October, on our wedding anniversary,” he said, “and that night we said to each other that we ought to have some fun with her this afternoon. This now is the ultimate dream.”

Ouija Board started a short-priced favourite and broke well enough from the stalls, but a desperately slow early pace meant that even in a close fourth place there was always a danger of her being swamped around the outside as the gallop quickened. As they came past her cheering supporters with a circuit to run, the worry was still there, but down the backstretch the attack began to mount and she was still holding third place as the field spun around the 180 degrees of the final turn.

Into the straight and I began to hear increasingly urgent cheers from Chris Hinsom, one of trainer Ed Dunlop’s devoted team. Ouija Board was in the clear, Kieren Fallon was driving. Three times Fallon’s whip came up in his trusty left hand. She got to the lead but lugged right-handed and in a trice the jockey had pulled the whip across to call for one final effort.

“Come on my girl, come on my girl,” roared Hinsom as the filly ground relentlessly on to such deserved glory. The whole Dunlop team fell on each other in embraces as blissful as any Cup final team. The previous race had been won by a $3,200 horse called Singletary, whose triumphant owners had evocatively hailed his victory as “bringing racing back to the people.” Now the most quintessential English of peers was doing the same thing.

For a few brief moments in the unsaddling enclosure Ouija Board looked a bit wobbly with dehydration after her efforts and the first-time administration of the drug Lasix. But the swift application of a water-soaked rug saw her walk away with her head held as high as all her happy supporters. “I always rated her very highly,” said Fallon in tribute. “She has shown she can quicken from the bunch, she is one of the very best fillies that I have ridden.” Fallon is an extraordinary man. Beleaguered by troubles with the police, the racing authorities and his private life, he remains a smiling pillar of wonder in the saddle. His genius needs guarding

This first visit of the Breeders’ Cup to the state of the Texas was something of a quart in a pint pot. Opened only in 1997, Lone Star Park normally caters for no more than 10,000 customers rather than the 50,000 sell-out it took on yesterday. People were spread all around the track on temporary stands. The sun was out, but the day began with what is the customary set of disasters for the European challenge. Nebraska Tornado blazed up with the leaders in a record-paced opener before falling back utterly exhausted. Mona Lisa fared even worse in the Fillies Juvenile, last out of the stalls and never getting going at all. “She hated the dirt in her face,” said Jamie Spencer with anything but an enigmatic smile afterwards, “and so did I.”

Spencer got on a lot better in the next, forcing the reluctant Antonius Pius through crowded traffic to bear down on the leader with what seemed a winning move before the exasperating colt reverted to type and ducked in behind in a wilful refusal to go past. It was still his most lucrative run of the season and Spencer’s angst was as for nothing compared to Jerry Bailey on the favourite Six Perfections who was completely blocked going to the last turn and could finally only get third place in her attempt to complete the Mile double as Miesque had done in the same colours a decade ago.

In the mile-and-a-half Turf Spencer had a very different ride on Powerscourt who responded so well when asked to attack down the back stretch that he went into the final turn with a clear lead. Even if the run home is hardly 300 yards it proved to be too early a tactic and Powerscourt tied up in the last furlong to finish only third.

So there was honour and history in the Breeders’ Cup and just when Fallon could think that he had got one over on his great rival, Dettori followed taking his championship with grabbing a Breeders’ Cup win of his own on the 26-1 outsider Wilko for Newmarket trainer Jeremy Noseda. On Friday evening I had shared a taxi with the two jockeys. Fallon was amazingly sunny considering his circumstances. Dettori untroubled by very fancied rides on the morrow, his tightest challenge being to get out of the track in time to make his connections to for an overnight to Australia for Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup.

“I shouldn’t think Wilko has much of a shot,” he laughed. Turning into the straight with three horses in front of a horse who had already been battling for some way it seemed that he had already exceeded expectations. But Wilko put his head down heroically. Dettori’s season has been beyond imagining.

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