5 November 2006

She only gets better. Ouija Board, already the most travelled mare in the whole history of the turf, became the first British- trained horse to win two Breeders Cup races with a nailing smooth three-length victory under Frankie Dettori in the Filly and Mare Turf.

This 10th victory in 21 runs took her winnings in Lord Derby’s historic black silks to over £3 million. This year she has already run in Hong Kong, Dubai, Epsom, Ascot, Goodwood and Leopardstown. Now, as last year, she aims to sign off in Japan and Hong Kong. No wonder Frankie Dettori said afterwards, “it was awesome; the best she has been. She has some great gears, they always get you out of trouble.”

He had played his own part flawlessly enough and was to double up brilliantly with Red Rocks in the mile-and-a-half Breeders Cup Turf. On Ouija Board he kept cool along the rail as the field stacked up before the final turn and then spinning out wide to cut down his main rival, Wait A While, before the furlong pole. Ouija Board possesses a turn of foot to die for. Used like this she can claim to rank in the very highest rank of champions.

How lucky we all are that the skill of her Ed Dunlop training team and the enthusiasm of her owner Edward Derby has kept her in action for a fourth season. Her victory under Dettori in the Nassau Stakes was the highlight of our domestic summer. Now she has given us our greatest moment overseas as well. It was back in 1780 that the 12th Earl Derby gave his name to the most famous race in sport. But with Ouija Board the 19th holder of the title has made a contribution that should live just as long.

“She’s quite literally changed the lives of her connections,” the proud owner said afterwards surrounded by what on these big days appear to be an ever-growing family. “I can say we have travelled the world about four times over with her, and I think she has earned a happy retirement at the end of this year. We look forward to racing her children in the future.”

Back home at Knowsley Edward Derby already has three of the largest and best-kept leather scrap-books you will ever find. Yesterday afternoon must have given him material enough to fill another one and with the prospect of Japan and Hong Kong before Ouija Board’s impending matrimonials to super sire Kingmambo, he must be a stationer’s delight.

The European challengers in the Mile won’t be going in the cuttings books. Araafa was made favourite but after looming up in the straight he back-pedalled like most of the visitors although Sleeping Indian did run on to be a distant fourth to the runaway winner Miesque’s Approval. But similar dread proved false in the Breeders Cup Turf. When Scorpion had begun to struggle and a disappointing Hurricane Run failed to pick up on the outside it had looked like we were headed for more disappointment. Until scene-stealer Dettori produced Red Rocks up the middle.

It was a ride of rare coolness, leaving him speechless afterwards. He dropped Red Rocks some 20 lengths off the ultra-rapid pace up front while Scorpion disputed second place and Hurricane Run (who had nearly bucked Soumillon off in the preliminaries) was just behind the leading group. As the leaders struggled on the final turn Dettori cut through to drive home ahead of the 2004 winner Better Talk Now and give Red Rock’s trainer Brian Meehan high hopes of David Junior triumphing in The Classic.

“I have messed him up a couple of times by coming too soon,” said Dettori when he had recovered his composure and contemplated an overnight flight to Australia to ride in the Melbourne Cup. “So I wanted to ride him cool and when I saw how fast they were going I knew I would have a chance of picking up the pieces later. I came through really well but the second came from behind me and I had to get serious. I think when I wake up on the plane tomorrow morning I will realise just how great it has been.”

Brian Meehan has kept insisting he was top-class. “I tell you that horse is really, really well; people are forgetting about him,” he had said on Friday morning. His judgment proved absolutely correct and with the light fading in the Kentucky sky there was a real tightening in all our stomachs as David Junior shared the European challenge with George Washington against Sheikh Mohammed’s star rated three-year-old Bernardini.

But as so often on this dirt surface, the hopes died in the dirt that comes back to plaster your face. George Washington kept a good position along in midfield along the rail but couldn’t raise any extra in the straight as Sheikh Hamdan’s Invasor ended his brother’s horse’s chance of immortality. Poor old David Junior absolutely hated the dirt flying at him. He was already struggling on the first turn and Jamie Spencer hacked in alone two furlongs behind the others.

For him and the rest of us, the day of enough American courses converted to the Polytrack or similar surface cannot come too soon. It even raises the thought that our horses, already used to such conditions, could do as well as Ouija Board and Red Rocks did yesterday on the turf.

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