LAST January the talk of South African horseracing was all about two top three-year-old fillies – Igugu and Ebony Flyer, writes JACK MILNER of Racing Express. The debate raged as to who was the better after Ebony Flyer beat Igugu in the Cape Fillies Guineas. After that, they had remarkably diverse careers but they both return to Kenilworth on Saturday.
Ebony Flyer did have her problems and had to have surgery to correct a breathing problem, but she has not really produced the goods. She won the Diana Stakes and a Conditions Plate against moderate opposition, where she was weighted a certainty, then finished a 2.25-length second to What A Winter in the Diadem Stakes and last time out, ran indifferently in the Queen’s Plate to finish a 5.90-length sixth behind stablemate Gimmethegreenlight.
Igugu, meanwhile, returns to Kenilworth with an impeccable record – she is unbeaten in six starts since that Cape Fillies Guineas defeat with her successes including the three legs of the Triple Tiara, the Grade 1 Woolavington 2000, the Grade 1 Vodacom Durban July and the Grade 2 Ipi Tombe Stakes.
While Ebony Flyer will be taking on members of her own sex in the Grade 1 Klawervlei Majorca Stakes, Igugu will face a strong field of both sexes in the R2.5-million J&B Met and has been priced up at 12-10 to give the opposition another hiding.
Prior to Igugu’s victory in the Durban July, her detractors claimed she had only beaten fillies and that most of them were below average. There were authorities on racing who claimed a three-year-old filly could never win that big race with 55kg. After her one-length victory over Pierre Jourdan at Greyville, the voices of opposition were silenced. The world of racing knew that Igugu was a one-in-a-million superstar, a horse that followers of the sport should embrace.
Everybody knows that, had it not been for the protocols that have restricted South African horses travelling overseas, Igugu would have been in Dubai preparing for the Dubai Wold Cup. In a way it has all worked out in favour of local racegoers, who can still bask in the glory of having a true champion on their doorstep.
Igugu should help fill the void left by the retirement of Pocket Power, who won this race three times. Whether she will be in the country long enough to contest his record is unlikely, but she is firmly expected to win.
Trainer Mike de Kock will be the first to admit that her preparation has been far from ideal. After her victory in the Ipi Tombe Stakes in December, Igugu’s next mission was to be the Grade 1 Paddock Stakes this month but a respiratory infection ruled her out. She has not had a warm-up run but assistant trainer Mathew de Kock confirmed yesterday that all is well with the favourite.
She has come right in the last two weeks and will be ready on the day. We arrived in Cape Town on Tuesday and she travelled as well as she could.’’
Unfortunately the three De Kock runners who were on the float – Igugu, Welwitschia and Ilsanpietro – have been forced to stay at the quarantine centre and are under a kind of “house arrest’’.
“Staying at the quarantine station means they are allowed out at 8am and have to be back in their boxes at 6pm,’’ said De Kock jun. “It’s a hurdle, but you have to deal with it.
Last year’s race and this year’s Paddock Stakes were run at a pace that made the usual “Cape Crawl’’ seem like a Formula 1 Grand Prix. That, however, is little concern to De Kock. “If there is no pace we will be quite happy to go to the front with either Igugu or Ilsanpietro.’’
Speaking of Ilsanpietro, he added: “He travelled well, had a nice prep and he’s looking outstanding. People are saying that he is not a middle-distance horse but they are wrong. All you have to do is look at his second behind Dancewiththdevil in the Summer Cup.’’
De Kock also pooh-poohed the concept that Igugu was all at sea at Kenilworth in her start behind Ebony Flyer. “Her defeat there had nothing to do with her not handling the course. She was dawn wide and was caught out wide the whole way.’’
Everything points to Igugu. She is well weighted, has a decent draw of No 7 and will have regular pilot Anthony Delpech in the irons. The one question punters will have to ask themselves is, who will follow her home.
The Apache has done little wrong in his preparation for this race and looks the most likely candidate, even from No 11 draw. In fact, it could work in his favour to be dropped out, as his best runs have come when allowed to run his own race from off the pace.
He will wear blinkers on this occasion – a rather strange idea to try the additional equipment for the first time in a Grade 1 race – but, according to Chesney van Zyl who has had the horse in his care for the past few months, The Apache’s work in blinkers has been outstanding. “We feel he just has not been going through with it in the closing stages and this will make all the difference.’’
The Apache is 2.5kg worse off with Igugu for finishing fourth in their Durban July run, so has his work cut out to reverse the placings. However, he did not enjoy the best of fortune in the July and might also benefit from the longer run-in. Raymond Danielson has the ride.
Justin Snaith has three decent runners but the best may be Run For It, who has proven he will see out 2000m. He ran third in this race last year and while he has not won a race since the Barbarians sacked Rome, he is a decent place getter.
Queen’s Plate winner Gimmethegreenlight is top class and has the services of Piere Strydom. If he sees out the trip, the Australian-bred runner will have a say in the finish.