Racing: Lone Star turf magical for Ouija Board

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The Independent Online

Under the cover of darkness, the entire British challenge for Breeders' Cup XXI emerged on to the track here at Lone Star Park yesterday. Both of them.

Under the cover of darkness, the entire British challenge for Breeders' Cup XXI emerged on to the track here at Lone Star Park yesterday. Both of them.

It is the smallest contingent from these islands in the history of the thoroughbred world championships, but it is not an entry without hope. Jeremy Noseda's Wilko has a chance in an unusually undersubscribed Juvenile by dint of the fact there are just eight runners, but Ouija Board is the big shot and the numbers which count for her are the form figures preceding her name.

The English and Irish Oaks winner paraded in four blue socks yesterday, testing the turf in a half-light before the mosquitoes arrived. Ouija Board would not have frightened the natives with her piece of work, as she meandered three-quarters of the track in the most gentle of canters.

It was not a display designed to revealed what energy levels remain at season's end, but, crucially, it did uncover that the local description of the going as "soft" was askew, by British standards at least. "That was perfect good ground out there," Chris Hinson, the work rider, said. "Absolutely beautiful."

There have been the hard races this season, most notably the protracted jostle which characterised Ouija Board's third place in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, yet there is no outward vestige that they have taken their toll. Quite the opposite. "She came out of the Arc a lot better than any other race this year," Ed Dunlop, the trainer, informed the throng outside Lone Star's quarantine facility yesterday.

"She's getting mentally stronger. She put all her weight back on in about eight days, which is rare for her. I've no qualms. She appears to be as well as she's been all year. Her coat is amazing and she looks as good as anything here. A lot of the European horses have been clipped, but she's still got a full summer coat."

Ouija Board is Dunlop's fourth runner at the Breeders' Cup series and his record is similar to his father John's. Between them they are nought for six. Dunlop Jnr's first envoy, Iktamal, was fast enough to win a Haydock Sprint Cup in 1996, but later got dirt kicked in his face at Woodbine and finished sixth.

Nevertheless, that remains Dunlop's best Breeders' result, as Lailani was eighth in the Filly & Mare Turf at Belmont Park three years ago, four places ahead of Mot Juste. "Iktamal couldn't go fast enough in the Sprint and I wouldn't bring another one for that race," the trainer added. "Lailani was favourite, but she had been on the go for a long time. This filly is lightly raced and coming in here pretty fresh. She would have a lot more speed as well."

The buzz word yesterday was pressure, and this particular onus is one Dunlop would be happy to endure every year. "To be here, to be the centre of attention and flying the flag, to be the No 1, is great," he said.

"We haven't been here many times and I'm realistic enough to realise that it's a tough shout. The pressure's on, but she is in good form. With good luck in running, we have a good chance."