STAR filly Igugu (headline photo), in her bid to secure the SA Triple Tiara was the main drawcard for over 10,000 racegoers to Turffontein on Champions Day and the superb daughter of Galileo gave them everything they’d hoped to see.
Igugu slammed her rivals in the Grade 2 R750 000 SA Oaks over 2450m, coming home 5.75 lengths clear of Princess Of Light to a rousing reception from the festive Saturday crowd.
With the Grade 2 Gauteng Fillies Guineas and the Grade 1 SA Fillies Classic already safely in the bag, Igugu became the first filly to land the Triple Tiara since its introduction in 1999, just over 12 years after Mike de Kock landed the SA Triple Crown with Horse Chestnut.
Taken from the top of the Turffontein grandstand, this photo shows Igugu putting daylight between herself and her rivals in the SA Oaks.
On 24 April 1999 the mighty Horse Chestnut ran his opposition ragged with a 10-length success in the SA Derby. Igugu’s bid for historic glory brought an atmosphere to the racetrack which is truly rare these days and was reminiscent of the buzz created in Johannesburg when the erstwhile superstar recorded his famous farewell victory.
Horse Chestnut, as told in the book about his career, “… sliced through the (SA Derby) field and a mighty roar erupted. ‘Ladies and Gentleman,’ boomed commentator Clyde Basel, ‘You may never see him in action again. He’s a true legend!”
Basel enjoyed the privilege of calling home Igugu too and this time, in the closing stages of the race, his voice rang, “It’s Igugu… and I get the feeling she’s pining for some globetrotting!”
Igugu’s supporters will be able to see her in action a few more times before she heads for Dubai for the 2012 Racing Carnival. Mike confirmed that the stable will be targeting the 2011 Durban July, with the Woolavington Stakes jotted down as her likely preparation run for SA’s most prestigious race.
“I will be nominating her for the July at second nomination stage and if she’s fit and well at the time of acceptance, she will take her place,” he said.
On-course presenter Julie Alexander, whose return to Tellytrack is refreshing, asked Mike to compare Horse Chestnut and Igugu and he replied: “It’s tough to compare generations. I wouldn’t slot her in second behind Horse Chestnut, but she is right up there with the best fillies I have trained.”
It wouldn’t be fair either to put Igugu on a par with Ipi Tombe, perhaps the best filly he has worked with, but in the same breath Mike noted how difficult it was to win a Triple Crown anywhere in the world, which goes a long way to support popular predictions that Igugu has the mettle to make her mark in the international arena next year.
Igugu’s win is replayed on Turffontein’s big-screen; the infield parking was opened to the public on this well-attended race day.
He commented. “It takes a special horse to win three successive races in a short period of time, over different distances. It is not easily done, we’ve seen how hard it is in the US, where many top horses fall at the last hurdle. I’ve studied the way the American trainers prepare their runners for their Triple Crown and it’s been of value to me.”
Igugu banked a R1 million Triple Tiara bonus in addition to her share of the race stake for her owners, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum and Andre Macdonald. In reference to Irish Flame’s foiling of Pierre Jourdan’s Triple Crown bid in 2010, Mike chirped: “I am happy to relieve Phumelela of a million rand today because I saved them a million last year!”
Mike said that he was really pleased for Sheikh Mohammed and “Mr Mac” and added: “I feel privileged to have won this race in front of a large crowd. Thanks to my team for a massive effort.”
Not surprisingly, post-meeting celebrations in the “Fun Box” reached almost epic proportions. Festivities were led by lean-looking adventurer and assistant trainer Mathew De Kock and a brigade of of his young friends. Fellow assistant trainer John Buckler extended his normally brief party time by twenty-odd minutes and the stable’s fashionable farrier-come-barperson Peter Dunias fulfilled his role as second-in-command to drinks hostess Aggie with distinction.
They were capably supported at their post by a number of faithful veterans proudly sporting at their helm the hardcore socialite Phil Giorgio, visiting from Durban. Other guests included Capetonians Pippa Mickleburgh, Robert Fayd’Herbe, Karl Neisius and Rob Champion as well as British-born Archie Watson, a former confidant of recently married Prince Billy, and a lad blessed with an accent that becomes especially delightful when mixed with his own version of Swahili.
Avontuur Stud’s Pippa Mickelburgh (breeder of Val De Ra) celebrates her Computaform Sprint success with Phil Giorgio in attendance. Mike and Diane De Kock enjoy a laugh at the spirited journeyman.
Mike’s long-time friends Ferdi and Liz Ladeira, who own a share of Rudra, also stood their ground with menacing commitment. They simply adore the sturdy chestnut who has delivered so much joy over the last few years and produced another game run when finishing fourth in the President’s Champions Challlenge to trainer Joey Soma’s surprise winner, Happy Landing.
Mike with Joey Soma who trains Champions Challenge winner, Happy Landing.
Mike’s other Challenge runners Captain’s Wild and Flirtation finished second and third respectively in the R2-million race, but the trainer and the connections of the placed horses were unanimous in their praise for Soma, who predicted that Happy Landing would be his next Grade 1 winner from the day the son of Al Mufti set foot in his stable.
Soma is one of several trainers around the country whose horses are being nourished with Mike and Epol’s revolutionary feed mix and the Turffontein-based trainer spoke glowingly about the product.
“Joey thoroughly deserves his win and I’m glad for him,” said Mike. “It’s very satisfying to see that our feed is producing the results we’d anticipated.”
Happy Landing, Fisani, De Lago Deluxe (Charles Laird, SA Nursery), Give Me Five (Sean Tarry, Camellia Stakes), Val De Ra (Denis Drier, Computaform Sprint) and Seal (Gavin van Zyl, SA Derby), all have one thing in common: They’re being fed on Epol’s Speedmax!
Ladies at the evening’s party: From left to right are Sharon Azzie, Diane de Kock, Pippa Mickleburgh and Jessica Slack, with Liz Ladiera in front.