IN the run-up to the 2013 J&B Met, DAVID THISELTON pays tribute to Igugu, the 2012 heroine.
Racing enthusiasts from every corner of the industry cheered as one at around this time last year when the courageous filly Igugu, who is currently just a few weeks away from her overseas debut, passed the line first to complete a rare J&B Met and Vodacom Durban July double.
The greatness of the Mike de Kock-trained heroine’s win may not have been fully appreciated by all, as little went right for her in the build up and she had to overcome obstacles that would have been too much for an ordinary horse. De Kock recalled, “She had a respiratory problem and an ongoing foot problem that left us behind in our preparation. We ended up having to work her twice a day to catch up. She worked on the track in the morning and on the treadmill in the afternoon. There are not many horses that would have been able to take the work we gave her. But she has always been willing to do whatever you ask of her.”
Igugu had been due to run in the Grade 1 Paddock Stakes over 1 800m for fillies and mares three weeks prior to the Met. The Australian-bred Galileo filly, who was four-years-old at the time, was virtually unbeatable at weight for age terms and her presence chased the opposition way, leaving a small field of only seven runners at final declarations.
The news early in the week of the race that she would have to be scratched due to an upper respiratory tract infection came as a shock to punters as she was the ruling J&B Met favourite. De Kock recalled, “Fortunately it was not serious and she was able to resume work quickly, which gave us just enough time.” On top of her intense work programme at Randjesfontein, Igugu still faced the arduous journey to Cape Town that she would undergo on the Tuesday before The Met. To compound matters it was confirmed by the state veterinarians that she would have to stay in vector protected quarantine conditions while in Cape Town, as there had been an outbreak of African Horse Sickness within a 30km radius of Randjesfontein.
This meant being locked up at the Kenilworth Quarantine Station two hours before dusk until two hours after dawn, meaning De Kock and his team would not be able to check up on her at night, except through a viewing window. Igugu emerged from the station on the morning of the race sweating and she sweated up again in the pre-race parade. But De Kock was not concerned. Igugu went down to the post with her familiar shuffling style, which can be misleading, but to those standing on the rail nearest to her there was no mistaking the power packed into that unique action. However, it was a different story in the race, at least until the final 200 metres.
After the off she struggled to get into her usual good early position. Fortunately she had a top class pilot aboard, her regular rider Anthony Delpech, who didn’t waste any energy pursuing plan ‘A’. Instead he eased her back, meaning she would have to come from further off them than she was used to. However, half way down the straight her winning chances looked gone.At a stage she was normally pulling clear, she appeared to be under pressure and still had two lengths to make up on Bravura. However, from somewhere deep in her reserves, she found another gear and surged past Bravura two strides from the line to win by 0,4 lengths.
De Kock said that Igugu was in great shape in his Dubai yard, despite a few hiccups during her arduous five month journey to get there. “The flight from Mauritius to England took 26 hours to complete because of a few delays,” he said. “Then she had a splint (pain in the splint bone usually after exercise) after a sprint up in England.” He continued, “But she has done very well since arriving in Dubai and we’ve had a free ride with her since then.”
The five-year-old mare will make her Dubai debut in the Grade 2 Balanchine for fillies and mares over 1 800m on turf on February 21, a race De Kock has won for the last two years running with River Jetez and Mahbooba respectively. One certainty is that the South African racing fraternity will be rooting for her every step of the way.