Igugu has been the country’s most talked about horse for the whole of 2011 and capped her three-year-old season in phenomenal style by winning the Vodacom Durban July – and surely to goodness securing for herself the horse-of-the-year title in the process, writes MatthewLips.
While the latest edition of Greyville’s 2200m showpiece may not have been the most satisfying of races, with its sedate pace and heavy interference suffered by several runners early in the early stages, it produced what racing needs – a true champion, a horse that could help to sell racing to a wider public if only our operators could at least market free ice creams in a heat wave.
Being hugely talented, female, and blessed with a funky ethnic name, Igugu has everything that a four-legged advertisement for racing could ever wish for, and being trained by one of the best in the world doesn’t hurt, either. Yet one feels the need to repeat precisely what one wrote in these pages after Bold Silvano won the Vodacom Durban July of 2010. More South Africans are likely to have heard of the bloke who plays flyhalf for the Mpumalanga Warthogs B Team than they are to have heard of Mike de Kock. It’s not easy to fix this mindset, but cramming a gazillion people into Greyville once a year when half of them will go to the grave not knowing who actually won the main race seems fairly pointless, even if July day is no doubt a lot of fun for them and a great cash cow for the operator.
Igugu had been the ante-post favourite to win the July from the moment she was entered for the race, yet opinions seemed to be sharply divided. There seemed to be two distinctly opposing points of view. She either couldn’t lose, or she wouldn’t run a place. Very few pundits seemed to take the conservative middle ground, but this only added to the expectations going into Saturday’s showdown. Fans and detractors of Igugu seemed equally willing to nail their colours to the mast, but there were more of the former than of the latter and she started as the 2/1 favourite despite having to shoulder 55 kgs, which was no mean feat for a three-year-old filly. Bravura had been enjoying a very good KZN campaign and was the 6/1 second favourite, with Galileo’s Destiny at 9/1 the most favoured of the frequently maligned three-year-old male contingent. Pierre Jourdan was also a 9/1 chance.
Many had been expecting Igugu’s stable companion Safwan to be in the line-up as a pacemaker, but if that was ever the intention it was soon torpedoed and left dead in the water when Safwan lost some three lengths coming out of the gates. Igugu, on the other hand, was off and running in no time at all and was the early leader from Emerald Cove before Happy Landing managed to eventually work his way around from a wide draw and go off to set what was by no means a frantic pace. Igugu was perfectly poised in second, with Emerald Cove next in line. Bravura was well within striking distance of the action in around fourth spot, with Big City Life not too far away either. Pierre Jourdan was keeping a fairly close eye on what was happening up front as well, with Past Master just behind the leading half dozen. The likes of Run For It, The Apache and English Garden were as always held up off the pace, although Run For It had been done no favours by early interference towards the rear of the field which saw Castlethorpe nearly being pushed over the fence and into the golf course.
Igugu was quick to stuck her head in front once in the straight, although she was being challenged strongly as Pierre Jourdan began to make a move and Bravura loomed up with his effort wide out. Igugu was made to work for victory, and 200m out there appeared to be a very distinct possibility that Pierre Jourdan at least would run her out of it. English Garden and The Apache were starting to make their moves, with Bulsara also getting into a reasonably challenging position, and there was in truth something of a stampede going on behind Igugu for much of the final furlong, but the more they threw at the filly the more she dug down.
Igugu has had an easy time of it in most of her other races, simply overwhelming inferior opponents by wide margins without having to particularly exert herself, but it was a different story here. She was called upon to show that she has the sheer guts to go with her undoubted talent, and she answered the call in no uncertain terms. Whatever Pierre Jourdan in particular could throw at her she could more than match, and in the end Igugu beat the horse fondly known as PJ by one length under a jubilant Anthony Delpech, who was winning the race for a fourth time in total and for a second year in succession.
English Garden and The Apache finished third and fourth respectively, one length and a long head further behind the runner-up, suggesting that the three-year-old male crop is not quite as mediocre as its most severe critics would like to believe. Bulsara, Big City Life and Bravura were next in line in a bunched finish, with the last named beaten a total of 2.30 lengths by the winner after appearing to have every chance. Past Master never really got into the race under 60 kgs, while the frontrunning Happy Landing finished with only a disappointing Black Wing behind him. The choice of jockey for Happy Landing raised many an eyebrow, with Derreck David being rushed to Durban to replace Muzi Yeni after the latter was injured when thrown from his mount at the start of the first race on the Greyville card. The only problem is that David was carded to ride five horses at Turffontein and just what the connections of that quintet thought about their jockey being whisked away at the last moment to ride what was frankly a virtual no-hoper in the July is perhaps something best not dwelled upon, especially when there were other riders already at Greyville who could have done the job of steering a rank outsider into 18th place.
The race ended in tragedy when 2009 July winner Big City Life broke a leg shortly after crossing the line in a very honourable sixth place and had to be put down. It was a sad end to the life of a multiple Gr 1 winner who was on the verge of embarking on a career at stud, and another valuable lesson in just why it is so important to savour the good moments in racing. It can all go wrong with devastating suddenness, and not surprisingly connections of the near R4 million earner were virtually inconsolable for some time after the event.
One could again ask the question of just what it would take to get most of our major events run at a proper pace, UK-style, from the jump. This by no means detracts from Igugu’s success, for as the runaway winner of the Gr 2 SA Oaks over the stiff Turffontein 2450m she may have been just as effective in a race run at a strong tempo throughout. However, a slow-run race was largely responsible for the early scrimmaging which could easily have led to a serious accident, and it helped to produce a blanket finish which any student of form has to be somewhat sceptical about taking too literally. If we wanted races like the Vodacom Durban July or the J & B Met to turn into virtual sprints, we’d put the starting gates at the 800m mark. There is something infinitely more satisfying about a race which is run at a good, strong pace throughout, and you can usually count on the result as being “true” going forward. The best horse almost certainly won the 2011 Vodacom Durban July, but racing is not only about the winner. There will be other races, and much as the form of the slow-run J&B Met has not by and large worked out well so the form of the July might follow suit. Time will tell.
Mike de Kock was also winning the July for the fourth time, and winning it with a three-year-old filly for a second time after the 2002 success of Ipi Tombe. Comparisons between Igugu and Ipi Tombe are fairly meaningless, but if the latter was a surprise package from Zimbabwe with obscure parentage the same is far from true of Igugu. There is every possibility that Igugu will enjoy another outstanding season at four, and at some stage in the future we would of course like to see her tested abroad, but the demon which is African Horse Sickness has virtually ensured that an overseas campaign is not imminent.
Igugu carries the silks of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa al Maktoum, in whose colours Bold Silvano won the July last season. Sheik Mohammed bought a fifty percent share in Igugu earlier in the season and races her in partnership with Andre and Joyce MacDonald. One of three Australian-bred horses to win a Gr 1 event at Greyville on Saturday, Igugu is a daughter of Galileo, who is having a stellar season in Europe even by his own high standards and who would be many experts’ idea of the best stallion active anywhere in the world today. Igugu is the second foal of the unraced Intikhab mare Zarinia and is distantly related to Zarkava, the unbeaten champion three-year-old filly of Europe and winner of the 2008 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Igugu was acquired by Summerhill Stud as a weanling in Australia and reoffered at the 2009 Ready To Run Sale in Gauteng, where Andre MacDonald coughed up a million rand to buy her. She has won eight times from ten starts for stakes of R4 071 875, and that is excluding the R1 million bonus she collected when she became the first horse ever to sweep all three legs of the Gauteng Triple Tiara earlier this year. Summerhill Stud-bred Pierre Jourdan was a graduate of the same sale twelve months earlier, and while our operators may leave something to be desired when it comes to marketing the same is assuredly not true of Summerhill boss Mickey Goss. If Gold Circle or Phumelela ever need some advice on how to sell something, Mickey’s in the phone book. The Ready To Run sale exists largely thanks to the massive input from Summerhill and you can bet your last cent that a Mickey Goss of this world won’t let as golden an opportunity as a Vodacom Durban July “exacta” go a -begging. Now, who’s this M F de Kock bloke again?
.Vodacom Durban July (SAf-G1) (7/2) Greyville, South Africa, July 2, R3 million, 2200m, turf, good, 2.12.82 (CR 2.11.79). IGUGU (AUS), 55.0, b f 3, Galileo (IRE) – Zarinia (IRE) by Intikhab. Owner Sheikh Mo9hammed buin Khalifa al Maktoum and A J MacDonald; breeder Kia Ora Stud (AUS); trainer M F de Kock; jockey A Delpech (R1.710.000) Pierre Jourdan (SAF), 57.5, b g 4, Parade Leader – Vin Fizz (SAF) by Qui Danzig English Garden (SAF), 54.5, b g 3, Camden Park – Royal Habit (SAF) by Dominion Royale (GB) Margins: 1, 1, nk Also ran: The Apache (SAF) 55.0, Bulsara (SAF) 55.0, Big City Life (SAF) 59.5, Bravura (SAF) 57.5, Emerald Cove (SAF) 53.0, Safwan (AUS) 54.0, Super Storm (SAF) 53.0, Past Master (SAF) 60.0, Castlethorpe (AUS) 53.0, Run For It (SAF) 55.0, Flirtation (SAF) 54.5, Galileo’s Destiny (NZ) 53.0, Captain’s Wild (SAF) 56.5, Lion In Winter (SAF) 56.5, Happy Landing (SAF) 56.0, Black Wing (SAF) 54.0