Though in his heart of hearts he probably knows he is clutching at straws, Ed Dunlop yesterday voiced thoughts that would find favour with all right-thinking lovers of this sport. "I'd be very happy indeed to still have her here at six," he said. "Yes, I know it would be a gamble, and that there are arguments both ways. But then it was a gamble keeping her in training at five, and we've done OK."
Amen to that, sir. The spine-tingling performance at Goodwood on Saturday of the object of his desire, Ouija Board, will live long in the memory of those of us privileged to see it. And the fact that her prolonged duel with Alexander Goldrun through the final quarter-mile of the Nassau Stakes seemed to have left little morning-after mark on her must go into her trainer's 'pros' column.
The five-year-old mare's bitter-chocolate coat shone softly in the cool light of her spacious box at Gainsborough Stables in Newmarket, her eyes liquid-calm and her muzzle velvet-soft on the palm as she gently accepted a handful of mints like the well-bred lady she is. "She's lost some weight, but not much," said a proud Chris Hinson, who rides her at home, looks after her and knows her better than any. "She copes with it all, gets on with her job. She's a professional."
Ouija Board will deservedly have a few days off before resuming exercise and her build-up to an autumn programme that may open early next month at Leopardstown with a re-match against Alexander Goldrun in the Irish Champion Stakes. "If she needs a longer break she'll tell us, and she'll get it," said Dunlop, "But she has a fantastic constitution. She's got lazier as she's got older and I think that is why she's lasted at the top for so long, she doesn't do much more than she has to."
At a racing weight of 472 kilos, Lord Derby's colourbearer is, as might be expected, heavier than she has ever been this year, in her prime as an athlete and her whisker-width victory added a new dimension to her portfolio of talent.
"What has always epitomised her has been the way she travels well, pulls out, one sprint and the job is done. But Saturday, from the front, was a totally different type of beast, a real eye-opener. But I don't think it was actually as hard as it looked, because she was almost idling in front." Dunlop, who spent the morning fielding texts and calls of congratulation on his charge's sixth Grade One success, was gracious in victory. "We got lucky and won," he said, "but I felt enormously for the runner-up. It was an amazing race and arguably the best result should have been a dead-heat."
The word from Jim Bolger's yard on the Curragh is that Alexander Goldrun, a contemporary of Ouija Board, will remain in training next year. But in the "cons" column may be recorded the rarity of top-level success by six-year-old mares - Triptych, Indian Queen and just-retired triple Melbourne Cup heroine Makybe Diva are among the few - and Lord Derby's desire to start breeding from his favourite. "Everything is beginning to have a last-timeish feel to it," admitted Dunlop. "It's sad, but I'm so pleased to have had her around as long as I have had." Yesterday's top-level action was on the other side of the Channel, at Deauville. British sprinters were mob-handed in the Prix Maurice de Gheest over six and a half furlongs with 10 of the 17 runners, but could do no better than Amadeus Wolf's third place behind 20-1 winner Marchand d'Or, trained by Freddy Head, and Satri. Kevin Ryan's Amadeus Wolf, in front a furlong out, was duly shortened in the market for the minimum-trip Nunthorpe Stakes at York.
Sir Michael Stoute must decide today whether or not to appeal against the Horseracing Regulatory Authority's decision on Friday to increase the £6,500 fine he incurred over the running of Florimond at Windsor to £8,500.
The increased zero-tolerance of racing's rulers over non-triers was again apparent on Saturday at Thirsk, when another trainer, Tim Pitt, was similarly find £6,000 after Jordan's Light, ridden by an apprentice, finished a tenderly-handled sixth. Pitt has not ruled out an appeal, saying yesterday: "I need to fully study the replays before deciding what to do."
* That's Blue Chip was a 33-1 winner for Hyperion (Chris McGrath) at Windsor on Saturday.
Nap: Jumeirah Scarer (Ripon 4.50)
NB: Phebe (Ripon 4.20)