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Painted Emblems of a Race

This weekend, Ouija Board will make her final start in the Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin. Her remarkable career is summed up well in ‘Farewell to a Magical Lady‘ — truly a fitting tribute. It seems odd to consider that she was an unspectacular (if promising) two-year-old and that her victory in the Vodafone Oaks was the first Classic win for Lord Derby’s family since 1945 — particularly as Ouija Board traces back through her dam to some very interesting Derby-family-owned horses of the early 20th century: Canterbury Pilgrim, Chaucer, John O’Gaunt and Swynford.

In case you missed the little historical joke in the horses’ names, here’s a brief background: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-1399) was (eventually) married to Katherine Swynford, the sister-in-law of Geoffrey Chaucer. I say ‘eventually’ because their four children, the Beauforts, were born while he was married to Constance of Castile and their affair may (or may not) have begun while her first husband, Thomas Swynford, was also alive. In either case, reader, she married him and their children were legitimated (although technically barred from succession) in 1396.

The Earl of Derby title was assumed by John of Gaunt when his (first) father-in-law Henry of Grosmont died. Henry IV (son of John, stepson of Katherine) also used the Derby title and it then fell out of use for many years. There is still a connection with John of Gaunt, however — Thomas Stanley was given the title by Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth Field (Ricardian complaints notwithstanding). Thomas Stanley was married to Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort — great-grand-daughter of John and Katherine (through their son, John Beaufort) and quite a formidable woman in her own right.

After all, if you are going to name the horses you own after ancestors, you may as well pick interesting ones. Given her equally illustrious forebears and her many accomplishments, it is only right that Ouija Board ends her racing career on a win.

Update: Ouija Board had to be scratched Saturday due to an old injury flare-up; while disappointing, she certainly has nothing to prove and should enjoy her retirement. Feel better, Ouija Board!

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