Racing: Omens against Ouija Board taking Pebbles' mantle

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The Independent Online

One of the iconic Breeders' Cup moments came early in the piece when, on an electric night in New York back in 1985, Pebbles achieved immortality as "England's superfilly", for her feat of beating the boys in the Turf.

One of the iconic Breeders' Cup moments came early in the piece when, on an electric night in New York back in 1985, Pebbles achieved immortality as "England's superfilly", for her feat of beating the boys in the Turf. On Saturday in Texas, Ouija Board has the opportunity to earn the same epithet. Lord Derby's Ed Dunlop-trained dual Oaks heroine will carry our flag virtually single-handed at Lone Star Park, the tiny track chosen to host the 21st edition of the sport's richest day. She is one of a raiding party of just two from Britain, and the other, the juvenile colt Wilko, is almost a naturalised American; he will remain there after the event.

The Breeders' Cup may have come of age but its party - an eight-race card offering $14m in prize money - is now not the only one in town. Valuable contests elsewhere in the world - like tonight's Canadian International, target of the likes of Sulamani, Mubtaker and Ecomium, and generously subsidised races in Japan and Hong Kong next month - are giving the lie to the notion that North America's annually moveable feast is, as it styles itself, the World Thoroughbred Championships.

It has to be said, though, that British-trained horses have fared badly at Breeders' Cup meets over the years - Pebbles was the first of just eight winners - but in times of national sporting crisis it seems fair enough to become, Ryder Cup-style, European, and Ouija Board and Wilko's battle is joined by five entrants from Ireland - the Ballydoyle quintet Mona Lisa, Antonius Pius, Yesterday, Scandinavia and Powerscourt - and five from France, Nebraska Tornado, Six Perfections, Diamond Green, Whipper and Aubonne.

It will be decided on Wednesday whether Ouija Board will run in the Filly & Mare Turf or mix it with the males, as she did so effectively when a close third in the Arc. The Turf offers double the money, a purse of $2m, but it also provides a formidable obstacle in the powerful chestnut shape of the local hero Kitten's Joy. In the past the Turf has been farmed by the Europeans, with 14 wins, but this Kitten will be no fluffy touch. Beaten only once in nine starts on grass, he warmed up three weeks ago with an impressive defeat of Magistretti in a Grade 1 contest at Belmont, on the easy ground likely to prevail on Saturday. Powerscourt will aim to give Aidan O'Brien a hat-trick after High Chaparral's outright win in 2002 and shared spoils last year.

The card opens with the Distaff, 10 furlongs on dirt, and another split decision for six-year-old mare Azeri, whose victory two runnings ago clinched her, unusually for a female, the US horse of the year title. Despite the presence of Storm Flag Flying, she would have a second Distaff at her mercy, but she, like Ouija Board, may yet have a crack at the colts in the Classic. Andre Fabre, whose BC record is the best of the Europeans, fields Nebraska Tornado.

Despite having no Saeed bin Suroor-trained runners, the Godolphin team has high hopes of taking the Juvenile Fillies with American-based Balletto, in which progressive maiden Mona Lisa represents O'Brien. Her stablemate Scandinavia and Wilko (Jeremy Noseda) take on local stars Proud Accolade and Roman Ruler in the colt's equivalent, the Juvenile.

The Mile, on grass, is the other European specialist subject and has attracted four raiders. Last year's winner Six Perfections has been knocking at the door, but only softly; Antonius Pius and Diamond Green are short of the very best; so Whipper may be the chief threat to the home side, headed by Nothing To Lose, Special Ring and Artie Schiller. The Sprint is a domestic affair, with Kela and Champali a pair to look out for.

Should Ouija Board's connections take the red route, that perennial bridesmaid Yesterday could finally have her day in the Filly & Mare Turf, at the expense of the pick of the home side, Light Jig.

And with or without Azeri or a European representative the finale, the $4m Classic, should be just that. Last year's victor Pleasantly Perfect defends his title against the likes of Ghostzapper, Roses In May, folk hero Funny Cide and the best of the three-year-olds, Birdstone.