Ambling around her box without a care in the world, Snow Fairy quietly sifts through her bedding with dead aim on the remnants of hay that remain from her previous feed. As we edge closer to her box she peers over the door to briefly greet us before returning to the job in hand; there's more hay to find and she's spotted it. This afternoon is a quiet one for Ed Dunlop's star after a morning work as she builds towards another enthralling chapter in a rollercoaster story that has brought elation, jubilation and, sometimes, hindrance due to a luckless run of injuries. It is hard to imagine that ten months ago this stunning five year old daughter of Intikhab was struck down with a tendon injury that threatened to derail her career during the height of her achievement. Since winning her fifth Group One at Kyoto in Japan's Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup in November, Snow Fairy had been struck down with a tendon injury that is predominantly seen in jumps horses, the kind of injury that regularly prevents horses from returning to their former glories and, in many cases, ensures retirement far earlier than planned. Such is the enormity of the injury, it is even more remarkable quite what Snow Fairy achieved when returning to racing on Sunday the 19th of August at Deauville. Unraced for 280 days and reunited yet again with Ryan Moore, Snow Fairy bounced out perfectly from stall eight before settling towards the tail end of the field, such is her customary position in her races. Travelling beautifully under a patient ride off a perfect set pace, Snow Fairy angled to the outside coming into the stretch as the field fanned across the Deauville straight. As the race came towards its concluding stages, Moore nudged away as Izzi Top and in-form jockey William Buick began to come alongside and box her in towards the rear of Timepiece and Giofra. With less than a furlong to go, Snow Fairy burst through with her trademark turn of foot and put the race to bed in a matter of strides as she began to pull away, albeit for a small win in distance, for a comfortable success when always holding Izzi Top at bay.
A returning superstar, Snow Fairy had stared into the face of adversity and laughed at its pitiful attempts to sideline her career before she had completed what she had wanted to achieve. Snow Fairy had returned right where she had left off, at the very highest level with a victory. "You never really know with a horse that has had a significant injury like that, whether they're actually going to be the same horse as they were before." said Dunlop, "We knew before that she was a good horse, a very good horse, and the vibes going into the race were encouraging, but she hadn't run for 280 days and she'd had this serious injury. Ryan Moore had ridden her work three times on three different racecourses - the Rowley Mile here [Newmarket], Sandown and Lingfield - but we went there hoping she would run well rather than winning but once again she showed what a tough filly she was and won, it was an amazing day. Surprise, elation, it was just amazing to see that we still had the old Snow Fairy."
"What she's managed to achieve is simply mind boggling in the space of eight months. She was back in my yard for three months before the race and the rest is history" stated Dunlop, "It's her will to win, she's not so normal. She's so tough and wants to win, she's small but she's tough and she's almost like a colt rather than a filly. Her last two furlong time in Hong Kong was apparently outstanding and when she won in Japan in her two races the time for the distance and the amount of ground she made up was exceptional. She's got an incredible turn of foot and that's probably one of many things that make her a champion." Her introduction to the world was not as perfect as many foals may experience; For the first five days of her life, Snow Fairy lay on the ground too weak to stand and was fed by bottle at Islanmore Stud. A filly who seemed uninspiring and relatively small in the early stages, Snow Fairy headed to the Tattersalls Ireland sale in December 2008 where she was knocked down for the tiny sum of 1,800 EUR. Bought back after the sale by Mrs Patino, who home-bred the filly, Snow Fairy was sent to Ed Dunlop's La Grange Stables. "She was a feisty little lady as a two year old. She'd tend to get loose a fair bit, she was regressive, and she liked to bite a little bit. She still does that when you're saddling her but she knows she's a star. There is something about her that not many horses have, she has this aura, although she's not big, she just knows she's a very good horse." Injury has been an ever present factor in the life of Snow Fairy. A globetrotting star that has surpassed the monetary achievements of Dunlop's previous star mare, Ouija Board, Snow Fairy targeted the Dubai Sheema Classic in 2011 before being struck down with a minor injury that delayed her preparation going into the race. Albeit not an injury that was deemed as career threatening, the injury was enough to see her skip the Dubai Racing Carnival and return to England for a mid-season crack at the Coral-Eclipse in July. Further injury concerns populated her career in the lead up to her defence of Japan's Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup in November where she incurred a reaction to a bite from a local bug which saw the skin come away from her hind legs on the eve of the race.
On Saturday, the twenty-first chapter of the heartwarming Snow Fairy story plays out at Leopardstown in Ireland, in a race which last year saw her narrowly fail to overturn one of the southern hemisphere's greatest imports of all time under a superb late drive in the hands of Frankie Dettori. With Ryan Moore temporarily on the sidelines with injury, Dettori is booked yet again to partner the five year old daughter of Intikhab in her bid for her seventh Group 1 victory in her fourteenth consecutive race at the highest level. "Since her run two or three weeks ago she's had two easy pieces of work. Her weight's spot on, she obviously did a significant amount of work going into the Prix Jean Romanet and she's very fit now. It's just a question of keeping her ticking over, keeping her sound, keeping her healthy and taking it from there. It's one race at a time after an injury like she's had, it depends how she is, how she takes the racing and how many miles we think she's got left in the tank."
With just two runs under her belt this season, with the conclusion of the Irish Champion Stakes, Snow Fairy yet again looks targeted towards the familiarity of a late season international campaign. Whilst a return to Japan will be strongly considered, it is probable that very little more can be achieved by defending the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup at Kyoto. Whilst the Japan Cup, in which she will re-engage with Danedream for the first time since the 2011 Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, is a tantalising proposition, the Breeders Cup looks an even stronger possibility with two races being considered by connections. "Ouija Board won two Breeders Cups and, apart from winning my first Classic, it was the most wonderful day of my career. It gave us such a buzz winning at Lonestar, which is a great little track. We want to go back again and if she [Snow Fairy] goes she will have a real chance. Whether we want to go back to Japan or not, ultimately Mrs Patino, who owns her, is very instrumental on where she runs. There's the colts and fillies race [Breeders Cup Turf] and there's also the fillies only race [Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf]. In the past we've chosen the Japanese route because, as a three year old, she was eligible for a huge bonus which the Japanese put on and as a four year old we thought we'd go back there, it's very good money and we know she'll have a great chance of winning there, but this year potentially we'll go to America. The cost of taking them is enormous if they're not Breeders Cup eligible and the Breeders Cup Turf will obviously cost us more to run [than the BC F&M Turf] and there's obviously more money to win - we will see what's likely to run in that before making a decision."
"I'd been very lucky to have one good filly [Ouija Board]. This time round I've been able to appreciate it more. The Ouija Board story went on and on and on around the world, it was just a whirlwind tour of the greatest establishments in the world. Japan Cups, Dubai Racing Carnivals, Breeders' Cups, everything, it was an amazing story. This has been up and down, we've had good days, bad days, injuries and, the same with Ouija Board, she had injuries as well, but I've been able to enjoy this one more." admitted Dunlop, "This mare is probably harder and tougher. Ouija Board was bigger but Snow Fairy probably travels better than Ouija Board. Ouija Board wasn't very good in a horse box but she was OK flying yet between them they've won over seven million euros, they've won similar types of races, and both of them are virtually two of the best mile and a quarter fillies ever."
"The story isn't over yet. If she were to stay in training Royal Ascot might be an option. We'd love to take her to Royal Ascot to show her off to the British public but [this year] unfortunately there is a strong chance she won't run in England, there aren't any races for her. She's in the [Prix de] L'Arc de Triomphe, she's - of course - in the Champion Stakes and you've obviously got Japan Cups, Breeders' Cups and then there's Hong Kong. There is the great finale now of our Champions Day [Ascot - 20 Oct] which is looking to be a huge success but whether we want to take Frankel on [at this time], I'm not sure." With Elusive Pimpernel awaiting in the breeding sheds for when Snow Fairy does decide it's time to hang up her shoes, another home bred colt or filly looks to be on the agenda for Mrs Patino and the Islanmore Stud, yet the prospect of yet another season of the twisting and turning tale of the exceptional Snow Fairy is one which fans, media and racecourses alike all long for. In a season where Frankel and Camelot will both likely be retired, the stage is set for Snow Fairy to pick up the baton and become the darling of British racing. A title which she so richly deserves. Unable to gain victory in England since her scintillating victory in the 2010 renewal of the Epsom Oaks, the possibility of one final victory by Snow Fairy in her home country may not be over just yet. Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)