THE 2012 J&B Met delivered a fairytale ending for Igugu and her connections – a spine-chilling, jaw-dropping kind of finish to cap the kind of campaign that books are written about and containing every riveting element needed to make a box-office blockbuster, writes CHARL PRETORIUS.
The 34th renewal of the Western Cape’s flagship race under the bright yellow-and-red whiskey label turned truly sensational. It brought hundreds of thousands of racing fanatics to tears – Igugu’s connections, a festive feature-race crowd at Kenilworth and racing fanatics around the country glued to their television sets in anticipation of the high drama and riveting passion that only a classic thoroughbred contest is able to deliver.
Igugu had to draw on every inch of her naturally noble composure and her vast talent to bring to an end a month marred by her illness , a far-from-ideal-preparation, an 18-hour road trip to Cape Town and her near-isolation in quarantine in the days leading to the race. She secured victory in a nailbiter that made this testing ordeal change in seconds from bitter to sugary sweet for Mike de Kock and his team, owners Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoun and Andre and Joyce Macdonald, and the filly’s big band of supporters across the land.
For 1900m of Saturday’s 2000m spectacle, Igugu could not possibly win. She looked lacklustre and was covered in patches of sweat; she jumped slowly from the pens, was shuffled around into a position where she would be intimidated by the colts and geldings around her, had to switch out for a run and came off the bit and under pressure with three lengths to find and not much left of the home straight – the best of her male rivals going great guns ahead of her.
Igugu gets up in the shadow of the post, beating Bravura.
For several painful moments, jockey Anthony Delpech looked really lonely out there. One could sense his frustration as he tried to coax his mount to change gears, to deliver the special turn of foot she is so capable of, despite the factors against her. Strong hands-and-heels at first, Delpech didn’t want to punish Igugu unnecessarily. If she was to go “out the back door”, she was to do so without getting an undue hiding.
Going into the last 400m, race caller Jehan Malherbe sounded the sentiments of the racing nation – Igugu had come under pressure and her day would quite possibly end in disaster. There was a defining moment around the 300m mark that would see her give up, or try again. In that split second, as close to defeat as she could be, Igugu suddenly took a champion’s breath, grabbed a hold of the bit and told Delpech, “let’s go Bonji!”
Racing to the last 100m of the 2012 J&B Met it was all there – every bit of Igugu they, we had all come to appreciate and treasure and had come to watch. Delpech, cucumber cool but feverishly spirited anew, drew on the stick to encourage her – she responded with a thrust of power, reeled in a game Bravura and Gimmethgreenlight, the land’s best older and best younger horse – and got their measure with 50m to run .
Igugu won going away by 0.40-lengths, producing for her legion of supporters a rare, frenzied colourburst that hit the racing nation’s collective brain with a rush of pure adlenaline– last sensed when Horse Chestnut won the great race. In the gruelling, stride-for-stride drive to the line, the world came momentarily to an almost paralysing standstill, life unreal releasing its firm grip just after the winning post, euphoric for all.
Delpech often has one arm straight up in the air at times like these, his victory salute. But this time his emotions only caught up with him in the post-race interview when he was overcome by tears of joy and relief. “We came into this race with big pressure and I’d made a mistake in her gallop at home. She wasn’t herself and the pace was too slow today, she likes to gallop. But I couldn’t panic. She gave it her all over the last 100m. She doesn’t know how to lose. I wish to God I can always stay on her back!”
Mike de Kock, pale, was also struck with raw emotion. “Igugu almost had no right to win today. I’d say she was 90% of herself. But she dug down deep and I am humbled. This day wouldn’t have been the same without her. She contributed to making it so good. This was a great team effort. Thanks to Mathew (De Kock) and John (Buckler) who worked with her at Randjesfontein.”
He added: “Igugu was sluggish today, she wasn’t herself. She didn’t get out well. Lesser horses wouldn’t have done what she has just done. It wasn’t easy. There were knockers and naysayers. But she rewarded our faith and trust. Well done to her owners, they deserve every bit of success. We will celebrate now, we are pretty good at that!”
Igugu, a four-year-old by Galileo from Zarinia by Intikhab, has won 10 of 12 starts and R5,684,000 in stakes. Not only for her connections, but for South African racing. We’re in awe, all of us. She stopped our hearts. We’re humbled by true greatness.