Racing: O'Brien marshals Europe's gang on the Lone Star trail
Thursday 21 October 2004
For the host Americans at least they may be the dirty dozen, the European representation which was yesterday confirmed as the raiding party to wrest the spoils from Breeders' Cup XXI, the event which has become billed as the world thoroughbred championships.
Lone Star Park in Texas is, for the first time, the site for the peripatetic series of races on Saturday week and the EU beasts with the greatest opportunity are considered to be Six Perfections, who attempts to do a Miesque and defend a Mile crown won 12 months ago at Santa Anita, and Ed Dunlop's dual Oaks winner Ouija Board.
The latter, who was also third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, is just one of two British entrants in company with Wilko, the Jeremy Noseda-trained juvenile on a one-way ticket as he will remain in the United States for the rest of his career.
There are, unusually, no representatives from the mighty Godolphin team, though their competitors for the European throne, the Ballydoyle/Coolmore axis, provides the spine of the European challenge with five runners. It may not have been the most glorious of seasons for Aidan O'Brien's stable, but one afternoon in the fall at Grand Prairie could change all that.
The arrival of the Breeders' Cup meet is no afterthought for the management at Lone Star. They were pitching for this celebrated equine circus before the footings were put in at the track which opened only in 1997.
Theirs is not the most extravagant of locations - the introduction of 38,000 temporary seats will take the anticipated on-course audience up to just over 51,000 - but it does represent a shift in policy by the organisers. Two years ago, Arlington Park in Chicago had its first go as hosts, as will Monmouth Park in New Jersey in three years' time. There remains a glimmer that the series will, in time, find its way to Europe. "I never say never about that some day," D G Van Clief jnr, president of Breeders' Cup Ltd, said yesterday.
The Boadicea that Britain must follow this time is Ouija Board, who flies out on Monday but whose target will be announced two days later. Lord Derby's filly has a favourite's chance in the Filly & Mare Turf, in which she is rated 5lb higher than anything else in the field. Yet she also has possibilities against the colts in the Turf, for which the domestic titan Kitten's Joy leads the market though Ouija Board has 1lb on him according to the handicappers.
Dunlop was concentrating on cake yesterday as he celebrated his 36th birthday, but also mulling over factors which will determine whether he will be able to eat it. Ouija Board worked well over seven furlongs yesterday for big-race jockey Kieren Fallon and now has to survive only a routine blow-out on Saturday to book her passage. Then there will be other problems to combat.
"The key is that she gets there sound and travels well," Dunlop said. "She has a fantastic temperament. She is so laid- back and doesn't worry about a thing. She's become a little film star - she doesn't bat an eyelid.
"She lost 12 kilos in the Arc - the least she has lost in a race this year. She's put that back on and gained two kilos. That's a good sign, and she's good in her coat. She's getting more mature."
Ouija Board will be Dunlop's fourth runner at these games. "We have gained a lot of experience from those visits, but we realise what a tough challenge it is," the trainer added. "Many champions have been there before and have been beaten and, if we come away with anything, we will be thrilled."
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