Racing: Ouija Board can banish old ghosts of Belmont

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The Independent Online

The big oval in the Big Apple stages the self-styled world thoroughbred championships and these thoroughbreds are going to have to run pretty fast to get anywhere near the ghosts that run around Belmont.

For this was the arena when Man O'War ("the mostest hoss that ever was") made his debut and also won the Belmont Stakes of 1920. Yet not even Big Red created the most memorable display here. That distinction belongs to the horse who also inherited his soubriquet, the magnificent Secretariat. The Belmont Stakes of 1973 stand as perhaps the greatest performance in the history of racing.

Secretariat, the 10-1 on favourite, in his trademark blue and white check blinkers, took Ron Turcotte to the lead. And then he kept going and going. Going and going. By the post, he had won by 31 lengths, but he was not finished. By the time Turcotte pulled up the raging beast beneath him, Secretariat had also broken the world record for 13 furlongs. "He could not have moved faster," observed the great racing writer, Charlie Hatton, "if he had fallen off the grandstand roof."

Those present understood they had witnessed the abnormal. In the wake of the Belmont, 5,617 tickets, worth $14,597, were not cashed. They were presumably kept as souvenirs.

Team Europe has enjoyed success at Belmont Breeders' Cups, but may be best known for a defeat, when Dick Hern's Dayjur arrived in 1990 as Britain's best speed horse. He looked about to spread his hegemony to the world, until he jumped a shadow cast by the grandstand just yards from the finish of the Sprint.

If there is a British horse which jumps out this year, then it must be Ouija Board, who attempts to retain her crown in the Filly & Mare Turf. It has been a horrid year for the Oaks winner, but her injury-curtailed campaign means she comes here fresh. If she is anywhere near her best Ouija Board will win, and word from the Ed Dunlop camp is that they think she is at least the equal of last year.

Belmont, like everything else in New York, is big. It has a banked final turn, the longest in North American racing, and, at this time of the year, the weather is cool and the ground yielding. This also favours the Europeans, who are allowed to do drugs for the first time, and nowhere quite as much as in the mile, which is a specialist distance in the States.

This year, though, the home team have a monster in Leroidesanimaux, unbeaten in his last eight races. He was so arresting last time, in the Atto Mile at Woodbine, that his trainer, Bobby Frankel, almost fainted on his way back to the winners' enclosure.

Yet that Canadian race has proved to be the kiss of death to Breeders' Cup runners. There are alternatives in Gorella, Major's Cast, Whipper and Valixir, who finished in that order behind Starcraft in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp, but for ticks in boxes the value is last year's victor, Singletary.

Starcraft himself runs in the Classic in which he will prove to be either a Giant Causeway, Sakhee or Swain and adapt to the dirt surface, or a Galileo, Hawk Wing or Halling, and be swallowed up by it.

Ballydoyle's Oratorio is also in there and will be the subject of much coercion from Kieren Fallon. This, though, is a race which the Americans have dominated. They hold a strong hand again with Saint Liam and Borrego, with the former fancied as he holds the consistent form which history dictates is required of a winner in this $4.8m race.

The Turf is famously fertile territory for the tourists and there are four Europeans taking on the Americans. The favoured domestics are Better Talk Now, who won this last year at Lone Star Park (or it may have been that Jamie Spencer lost it on Powerscourt) and the unbeaten Shakespeare, who now graduates to a rarefied level.

However, it is again Arc form which holds the key, especially as the ground has turned against John Oxx's Azamour. André Fabre's Shirocco, who was fourth in Paris, has been the buzz all week here but there is no reason why he should finish in front of Arc third Bago.

The Juvenile is destined for First Samurai, who they are talking about as a Kentucky Derby horse, while the Sprint holds the romantic tale in Lost In The Fog. The three-year-old represents the most seasoned owner, jockey and trainer team at the games. Harry Aleo is 85, Russell Baze 47, and Greg Gilchrist 57.

Richard Edmondson has won the Joe Hirsch Breeders' Cup Writing Award for his piece on Funny Cide in 2004. It is the second time he has collected the award and remains the only non-North American to have won the competition.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Grey Abbey (Wetherby 3.25)

NB: Jaoka Du Gord

(Lingfield 3.55)