New chapter in the Snow Fairy tale

Five-year-old mare continues her comeback trail to win the Irish Champion Stakes

Sue Montgomery
Sunday 09 September 2012 01:35
Frankie Dettori urges Snow Fairy to quicken to victory in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown
Frankie Dettori urges Snow Fairy to quicken to victory in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown

She is not a household name, but she should be. Though Snow Fairy has none of the rare sheer brilliance of a horse like Frankel, she thoroughly outstrips him for romance. From the moment she was put up for auction as a yearling and rejected by bidders at a mere €1,800, her story has been one of triumph against adversity.

Now the five-year-old mare – rather humbly bred, fairly unprepossessing of stature – has added the latest glorious chapter. Having bounced back last month against her own sex from a serious leg injury sustained in Hong Kong nine months ago, she yesterday put the two best middle-distance colts in Europe to the sword at Leopardstown.

Her victory in the Irish Champion Stakes, beating Nathaniel (winner of an Eclipse Stakes and a King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes) a length and a quarter in a track record time, with St Nicholas Abbey (a Breeders Cup and two Coronation Cups) third, brought her Group One tally to seven and her earnings to more than £4 million.

"I usually don't notice these things," said rider Frankie Dettori, winning the ten-furlong contest for the fifth time, "but I could hear the crowd get behind her and the roar when she crossed the line. I've had some great days here but this one was all about this mare.

"Everyone was delighted to see her win, especially like she did, and racing needs superstars like her. She's only small but she comes with a big punch."

The knockout move came halfway down the home straight. Nathaniel, ridden by William Buick, had taken over from St Nicholas Abbey's hare, Daddy Long Legs, off the final turn and galloped on gamely but had no answer to his rival's sparkling acceleration.

Dettori, having allowed his mount to travel in her comfort zone behind the scorching pace up front, rode a perfect race to win on her for the first time, and immediately shifted credit to her regular rider, the injured Ryan Moore. "He told me to be patient, that she would quicken as soon as I asked," he said, "and she made it feel very easy."

Snow Fairy, owned by her breeder Cristina Patino, is trained in Newmarket by Ed Dunlop, whose team at La Grange Stables deserve every plaudit going for keeping the mare on the road. "I can hardly bear to watch her these days," said Ed Dunlop. "All I want is for her to come back safe."

Rivalry with Nathaniel and St Nicholas Abbey may be renewed in next month's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, in which she was third last year. Dunlop also has his eyes on the Breeders' Cup meeting in California in November for his globetrotter.

"We've always said this year we will take it one race at a time," added Dunlop, "but she's never been to America. She's already won Group Ones in five countries and it would be nice to make it six."

For elite four-legged sprinters – as opposed to two-legged or even one-legged – this is an ordinary year; no equine Usain Bolt or Johnnie Peacock among their ranks. At Haydock yesterday, 10-1 shot Society Rock became the speed division's sixth different Group One winner in Europe in as many races as he bounced back to his best form in the £225,000 Betfred Sprint Cup.

Society Rock was one of the two in the field of 13 to have scored at the highest level before and he had posted some decent efforts since his first such success, in the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot last year. For sprinters, having everything fall just right can be as important as innate ability and yesterday both luck and talent took the little black horse back to the top of the podium.

He was the last of the three leaders inside the final furlong, pouncing three strides from the line after Gordon Lord Byron swept past Bated Breath. "He's a little terrier, he tries really hard," said rider Kieren Fallon, "and I got all the splits through the pack I wanted, which is what you always need in this type of race."

As well as the usual problems faced by sprinters in a bustling dash, Society Rock, trained by Dunlop's Newmarket neighbour James Fanshawe, has had to overcome his own tendency to blow the start by getting overwrought. Yesterday's success, after a level break, was another testament to a behind-the-scenes team effort, including recent therapy from a horse psychologist.

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