Racing: Ouija Board heads for Japan with her reputation intact

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The Independent Online

The weather of the day before had been more appropriate as Britain's aspirations at Breeders' Cup XXII were blown away in a bleak wind. The British were none for seven, and the Europeans would have been totally wiped out had it not been for André Fabre's Shirocco in the Turf. It was a perfect example of we becoming nous at racing's Olympics.

At the time, Ouija Board's failure to cope with Intercontinental and retain her Filly & Mare Turf title was depressing. Yet such was the scale of surrender to follow that hers was to become a beacon of achievement.

Most pleasingly, Ed Dunlop's four-year-old has emerged from battle unscathed, with just the obligatory nicks of engagement about her legs. Ouija Board's limbs had the chalk hosed from them yesterday as Lord Derby discussed his filly's effort.

Teddy, as his friends know him, did not have the body language of a loser. "It was amazing that the filly should be able to come back and do that," he said. "Winning is nice, but that was no disgrace. She was so happy in the barn area last night, her ears pricked. I promise you, she could run a big race tomorrow."

Lord Derby now hopes that Tokyo will prove to be the land of the rising daughter. "That was not her swansong," he added. "Obviously, it's up to the filly to tell us if she's ready, but she trotted out last night, looked fantastic, and the plan is the Japan Cup."

After that we get into an area that represents as close to disunity as it gets among Ouija Board's well-scrubbed connections. Lord Derby seems to think the filly's story is virtually at an end. "It's too early to say yet [about next year]," he said, "but I would work on the assumption that probably the breeding shed beckons."

However, Dunlop would like to think a fourth season of competition remains a likelihood. "Perhaps I could persuade the owner to come back for a third Breeders' Cup," he said. "It's a possibility, one of the various options we have to discuss.

"Japan looks right now, doesn't it? She doesn't seem to have had an unduly hard race, and she is a very fresh filly. I thought she ran a great race yesterday, and she has been an amazing horse for us all. We're lucky to have her.

"But we needed that [Shirocco] win. It would have been bloody frustrating not to have a winner out of all the horses in this barn here."

A grumble that the self-styled world thoroughbred championships thought they would never hear has emerged this week. Although there was a record of over $15.7m in purses spread across eight races on Saturday, prize-money has remained virtually stagnant for some time now. While others, particularly out east, catch up, North American racing has to wrestle with a sport close to financial turmoil. Not for them either are the trimmings of expenses, hospitality and gifts, which owners and trainers seem to hold most dear.

"I think there will be quite a lot of debate about the prize-money at the Breeders' Cup now, compared with some of the other international races," Lord Derby said. Yet the thought of personal enrichment was not uppermost for Saturday's winners. Glory was the dominating currency. For several jockeys there were initial wins at the series, which, doubtlessly, the Americans saw as a neat democratic touch.

Rafael Bejarano's debut success represented perhaps the ride of the card as he set the fractions up front on Intercontinental. "He rode her perfect," Bobby Frankel, her trainer, said. "I gave him instructions. I don't know whether he understood me, but he rode her just the way I wanted."

Edgar Prado played buses as well as horses, as Folklore became his first Breeders' Cup winner at the 42nd attempt before Silver Train followed soon after. "The best day of my life was when my child was born," Prado said, "but the best day of my racing life is today."

There was a double too for Garrett Gomez, a rather less destructive one than those he used to enjoy from the bottom of a tumbler. For some who know the man who rode Stevie Wonderboy and Artie Schiller it was a relief just to see him standing up. "I couldn't control it," Pam, his wife, said. "Every day I thought we were going to bury him."

Gomez is real Cape Fear material. The former narcotics victim has been inside, and is smothered in tattoos, one of which reads "Thou Shalt Ride". But now he is a good boy.

"I've always known I've had the talent to get it done," Gomez said. "It's just getting my life in order. Seems like I'm getting on the right track. But I had to hit a bottom like I've never hit before. I had my family taken out of my life. Then my job.

"After what I've been through, today is unbelievable. I'm glad I found a higher power that looks over me the way he does. With the programme I'm in, they tell me that by doing the right thing my life will get better.''

It will not get much better, professionally at least, than Saturday at Breeders' Cup XXII.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Saucy Night (Plumpton 1.40)

NB: Sir Monty

(Plumpton 1.10)