Having grown up in an era when racing was more for sport, I whet my teeth (albeit they are much longer these days) on racing history and developed quite a soft spot for turf racing in Great Britain.
Needless to say then, when in early May 2004 Ouija Board commandeered the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket, a major prep for the classic Vodafone Epsom Oaks (Eng-I), by a robust six lengths, she made quite a blip on my personal radar screen.
Racing as a homebred for the 19th Earl of Derby, she had put herself in a prime spot for an Oaks bid. Here was a chance for the stars of history and tradition to align. After all, the Oaks derived its name from the estate of the 12th Earl of Derby.
He had owned the winner of the first running (1779), Bridget. The family had won five more runnings over the centuries, the last in 1945 when Sun Stream took the silver cup for the 17th Earl.
Suddenly, this dark bay daughter of Cape Cross had my undivided attention. I hoped for the sake of the history that an Oaks victory lay in her future. She did not disappoint. Not only did she win the English Oaks authoritatively but she added the Irish version a month later. For me she personified everything I love about the sport of racing.
A good third in the group I Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (to me Europe's version of the Breeders' Cup Classic) did nothing to diminish her in my eyes.
Good news. She was coming to America for the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Lone Star Park in Texas. Better news. I, too, was going to the Breeders' Cup. Our paths were destined to cross.
But little did I realize at the time the role fate would play in our first meeting.
Foreign horses that come to the U.S. to race are separated from the general population of horses and only those who have the proper credentials are allowed into that special area. That meant that Ouija Board's Texas visit would, except for race-related trips to the track, such as workouts, be spent in the Quarantine Motel.
Through chance, an opportune acquaintance, and being in the right place at the right time, my friend Barbara and I got through to the grassy plot where some of the horses were grazing.
From the recesses of the barn, Ouija Board took her place among the diners with a befitting grace. As the shadows lengthened in that honey-golden light of the late October afternoon, I was like a schoolboy smitten with the head cheerleader.
The following day Ouija Board defeated a formidable field of 11 opponents to win the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) over Film Maker and Wonder Again.
As I watched her walk by me on her way back to the barn area following the winner's circle presentation, I could not have been any more over the moon. "Same time next year?" I hoped.
Well, there was a next year and I was just as glad to see her. But at Belmont Park, she failed to replicate her Texas Two-Step victory, falling just short of Intercontinental but ahead of her Lone Star runner-up Film Maker.
Again I wondered, "Same time next year?"
Ouija Board trotted the globe in 2006, traveling to Dubai, Hong Kong, and Japan, but in my book the port of call that counted most was her stop in Louisville for another Filly & Mare Turf. Her victory at Churchill Downs was like déjà vu all over again as she defeated her Lone Star opponent Film Maker.
As I walked back to the quarantine area to see her one last bittersweet moment, I knew our yearly trysts had come to a close.
Seven years have passed, and I've followed her broodmare career as intently as her racing career. I am proud that all of her foals are winners and that her Galileo 2-year-old colt Australia, a group III winner in Ireland, is being touted for next year's classics.