True to her name, Snow Fairy is still spreading her own summertime sparkle even as the sport remains stricken by winter.
Most, admittedly, had turned their attention elsewhere when the Oaks winner ran in Japan last month. Cheltenham was staging its first big meeting of the season and, after all, she had not been seen since failing to stay in the St Leger, back in September.
It would be an affront to both Snow Fairy and her enterprising trainer, however, to ignore what she pulled off in Kyoto — not least, a staggering haul of £1.4m in prize money and bonuses. Nor are they finished yet. On Monday Ed Dunlop flies to Hong Kong, where the filly arrived earlier this week, to prepare her for another lucrative prize at the International Carnival on December 12.
“To win in Japan, in November, is quite something for a three-year-old filly,” Dunlop said yesterday.
“We're not blowing our own trumpets — it's a major testament to her. She's a bit of a freak, really. She won easily, by four lengths. The second has since been beaten only three and a quarter lengths in the Japan Cup. Remember no overseas horse has ever won outside Tokyo. The Japanese say it's quite mind-boggling.”
With that huge financial incentive in mind, the Newmarket trainer played an astute hand after the Leger — itself an examination that would have reached the bottom of most barrels.
“We backed out of both the Prix de l'Opera and Champion Stakes on very soft ground,” Dunlop said. “But she was ready to run in both, so has been on the go for a long time now. We couldn't know how she would cope with the trip. It was 27 hours by plane followed by seven days in quarantine, during which she had a bit of a drama when she fell, and cut her knees. But she absolutely thrived on it. That's been the key.”
Dunlop is seasoned, of course, in matching brilliance with durability in a champion filly. Ouija Board was also a dual Oaks winner in 2004, before proceeding to the first of two wins at the Breeders' Cup. She would also land the 2005 Hong Kong Vase, at this same meeting.
Cristina Patino, who bought Snow Fairy back as a yearling for just £1,525, has already committed to keeping her in training. But they have one more roll of the dice this year.
“She's still got her summer coat and, fingers crossed, everything seems to have gone well since she arrived in Hong Kong,” Dunlop said.
He acknowledges that his adventures with Ouija Board have helped “enormously” — and also influenced the decision to drop back to 10 furlongs at Sha Tin.
“Ouija Board was five when she won the Prince of Wales's Stakes, and was arguably better over this trip than a mile and a half.
“So we thought it might be an idea to find out with this filly when she's three, rather than wait until she's five. It was a mile and three (furlongs) in Japan, but a sharp mile and three. We've always said she has speed. She won over six furlongs as a two-year-old, after all,” he said.
In fact, as he reiterates with merciless self-deprecation, he had never given the Oaks the slightest consideration before she ran at Goodwood in May.
“The whole thing's ridiculous,” he said. “We wanted to run her over a mile at York, but the ground was too firm, and when I opened the programme book this was the only alternative coming up, over a mile and a quarter. And the rest is history.”
So, too, is the meeting scheduled for Sandown today and tomorrow. With a milder forecast, however, the fixture lost at Exeter today has been salvaged for Sunday.