The racegoers' sweetheart, Ouija Board, will face eight rivals at Sandown tomorrow as she attempts to carry the girl power banner into uncharted territory. Should Lord Derby's five-year-old mare prevail in the Eclipse Stakes, she will be in a club so exclusive that she is the sole member. She would be a rare enough female winner of the Group One showpiece, but unique among her age and sex. The only two distaffers to score in the 108 runnings have been the four-year-olds Pebbles, in 1985, and Kooyonga, in 1992.
Ed Dunlop-trained Ouija Board, vying for favouritism with the year-younger colt David Junior, is the most prolific winner in the field for the first élite middle-distance clash of the generations, with eight victories, including five at the top level. Most recently, she took the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot over tomorrow's 10-furlong trip, with David Junior fourth, a scant two lengths behind.
The vanquished one's connections - trainer Brian Meehan and owner David Sullivan - claimed that a muddling pace that day led to his downfall, and to that end have acquired a pacemaker in the form of the habitually front-running filly Royal Alchemist, a good third in one of Royal Ascot's lesser races.
"Ouija Board is an exceptional mare, she's wonderful, she's a legend," Meehan said yesterday, "and there was no disgrace in finishing fourth to her. But we will take her on again. We're not going to run and hide just because we got beat."
Some great fillies have tried and failed in the Eclipse, notably four-Classic heroine Sceptre, beaten a neck by Ard Patrick in 1903, and Bosra Sham, victim of an injudicious ride when odds-on nine years ago. The "iron lady" Triptych, tried three times, her second to Dancing Brave as a four-year-old 20 years ago being followed by two thirds to Mtoto.
The epic 1903 renewal was exactly what Sandown's founder, Hwfa Williams, had planned when he invented the Eclipse Stakes. The Welshman was the sport's first impresario, the man who invented the pay-at-the-gate enclosed racecourse in an effort to keep out Victorian yobs. His Esher track, opened in 1875 in a natural amphitheatre close to London, was an instant success and 11 years later Williams had another brainwave, the country's first £10,000 race, specifically designed to bring the best of the generations together over the mid- distance of 10 furlongs.
The four-year-olds Ard Patrick and Sceptre had won all five Classics between them the previous year (the filly took all bar the Derby) and behind them in third place came the hitherto undefeated three-year-old Rock Sand, who went on to win the Triple Crown.
Overall, older horses hold the call over the Classic generation. The race has gone to three-year-olds on 46 occasions, to four-year-olds 50 times, to five-year-olds 11 times, and to a six-year-old, the inaugural winner Bendigo, once.
The three-year-old representation this year is reduced to two. The best of the pair is perceived as Aussie Rules, the sole survivor from a four-strong Aidan O'Brien entry. The colt won the Poule d'Essai des Poulains but disappointed in the Prix du Jockey-Club.
Ouija Board will have a new jockey tomorrow, Christophe Soumillon, and Aussie Rules may have one too, dependent on the result of today's appeal by Kieren Fallon against the removal of his riding licence by the British racing authorities following his being arrested and charged on Monday in relation to the ongoing police investigation into race-fixing.
Racing's other golden girl, Soviet Song, is right on course for her own bit of history in the Falmouth Stakes on the opening day of the July meeting. Five-year-old mares who win at the top level appear infrequently enough, so stars like Ouija Board and, in earlier eras, Pretty Polly, Corrida, Petite Etoile, Gladness, Park Top, Time Charter, Triptych, Dahlia, Stanerra, Lochsong and more recently Imperial Beauty, Frizzante and Super Tassa, deserve to be feted.
But if that is so, then six-year-old mares who complete the feat should be placed on a pedestal and garlanded, for they can be counted on the nails in one shoe. Diadem was one, but she walked over for her July Cup success in 1920. Triptych was another, when she won her second Coronation Cup in 1988, and so was Indian Queen, with her Gold Cup success in 1991. The most famous of the lot is also the most recent: Makybe Diva, who notched her third successive Melbourne Cup last November.
Throughout her career Soviet Song, who will be going for her third successive win in Wednesday's mile contest, has not been the easiest of females to deal with, either physically or mentally, but looked on good terms with herself as she tested the hands of her regular work-rider, Mark Denaro, up Warren Hill yesterday morning. Like Ouija Board, she already has five Group Ones under her girth, and like Ouija Board, she won at Royal Ascot, the Group Two race in which Royal Alchemist was third.
"She is highly strung," her trainer, James Fanshawe, said, "and there's a fine dividing line between her having that spark of electricity and brilliance, with her energy channelled into racing, and her being a nutcase. But she is mellowing and becoming more tractable with age, and she still enjoys being a racehorse, which makes the job easier."
SOUTHWELL: 2.00 Stoneacre Fred 2.30 New Guinea 3.05 Naayla 3.40 Collect 4.15 Hernando Royal 4.50 Lincolneurocruiser 5.25 California Laws
Nap: Lucky Leo
NB: In Full Cry
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