01/28/2005 12:00AM

In one fell swoop, Ouija Board left no doubt

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Ouija Board won 4 of 5 starts in 2004, including the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

In 1789, Lord Derby struck it lucky when he won a friendly lottery among such personages as Lord Bunbury, Gen. John Burgoyne, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan to have a new race named after himself. The Derby Stakes, or Epsom Derby, would become the first in a long line of national derbies.

This year, his descendant, still going by Lord Derby, hit the jackpot again when the only horse in his barn, , was named winner of the Eclipse Award as America's best filly or mare on turf by a 235-24 margin over Ticker Tape. That she should have done so on the strength of just one race in the United States is a testament to her owner's sportsmanship as well as her undeniable talent.

Lord Derby not only had to ship Ouija Board 5,000 miles to the untested - by British standards - waters of Lone Star Park, he had to put up a supplementary nomination fee of $90,000 to get her into the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Her 1 1/2-length victory over 11 rivals made her coronation as queen of American turf females a foregone conclusion.

But Ouija Board's Eclipse Award was not simply a matter of lucky spotting. Her 9-10 odds in the Filly and Mare Turf were genuinely indicative of her chances in her American debut. During a brilliant 3-year-old campaign, Ouija Board won 4 of her 5 starts, her lone defeat coming in her only race against older colts when a troubled third off an 11-week absence in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The highlight of her European season was a seven-length victory in the English Oaks. Although she did not do as much when taking the Irish Oaks next time, the nature of her three Group 1 or Grade 1 wins confirmed Ouija Board's remarkable versatility.

Winning major races at Epsom, The Curragh, and Lone Star Park requires three very different types of horses. Epsom's twists and turns demand a perfectly balanced horse who can stay 1 1/2 miles. At The Curragh, a strong galloper with stamina has the best advantage. But Lone Star Park, which bears no resemblance to any European racetrack, is designed for close-coupled individuals who can handle tight turns and be able to accelerate at a moment's notice through a short stretch. Ouija Board overcame all three sets of challenges with aplomb. The adaptibility she displayed at those tracks - on good, good to firm, and yielding ground - is perhaps the most notable feature of her championship season.

Ouija Board's Eclipse Award marks the 14th time since 1985 that a European invader has won the award with only a single American victory. The others were Pebbles, Miesque (twice), Morley Street (twice), Arazi, Daylami, Kalanisi, Johannesburg, Banks Hill, High Chaparral (twice), and Islington.

A British-bred daughter of Cape Cross and the Welsh Pageant mare Selection Board, Ouija Board remains in training at Ed Dunlop's Gainsborough Stables in Newmarket, where she will be prepared for the world's major 1 1/2-mile events this year. The Coronation Cup - at her favorite track, Epsom, on June 3 - is an early-season target, with a second crack at the Arc her major objective. The Turf at Belmont Park looms as her preferred Breeders' Cup option.