Dubai: After enduring a drawn-out journey to Dubai, South Africa’s 2011 Horse of the Year Igugu must now overcome a lengthy lay-off if she hopes to extend her trainer Mike de Kock’s dominance of the Group 2 Balachine, one of two feature races on Thursday’s seven-event card at Meydan.
In adherence to international quarantine restrictions imposed on South African horses, the Australian-bred six-year-old departed from Cape Town in May last year, only to arrive in Dubai in November following a five-month voyage via Mauritius and England.
Notwithstanding, De Kock’s stable flagbearer is a short-priced 11/10 international favourite against six rivals in the 1,800m turf contest that the ace South African handler has won five times in the past with Mahbooba (2012), River Jetez (2011), Sun Classique (2008), Irridescence (2006) and Moon Dazzle (2005).
But Igugu, who is owned by Shaikh Mohammad Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, is three from three and, by the looks of it, the one they will all have to beat, even if De Kock did sound a tad apprehensive.
“It is almost 13 months since she ran,” said De Kock. “But she has been working well and we are very happy with her fitness levels and preparation for this comeback run. She is far from fully wound up but is ready for a run.
“She is going straight into a Group 2 race, which is a big ask after such a long break, but we need to find out if that competitive edge is still there after such a long time off and a long trip to get here.”
Godolphin supply the bulk of the opposition, with Saeed Bin Surour, winner of the Balanchine back in 2004 with Gonfilia, saddling three runners including Group 2 Cape Verdi Stakes heroine Sajjhaa and two horses who finished behind her on that occasion — fifth-placed Dark Orchid and Spellwork, who was seventh.
Sajjhaa carries a penalty for that effort, with trainer Bin Surour saying: “She won well first time and has improved in her work since then. The extra 200m will suit her but she carries a penalty in a better race and Igugu looks a big danger for Mike De Kock.
“We also have Spellwork and Dark Orchid in the race, as they were when Sajjhaa won last time. Both should run well and are definitely fitter now.”
The Ger Lyons-trained Lily’s Angel switches to turf having won a 1,400m handicap on the all-weather on the opening night of the 2013 Dubai World Cup Carnival.
The other featured race of the evening is the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort, where De Kock once again supplies the ante-post favourite in five-time Meydan scorer Musir and stable companion Master Of Hounds, a winner of the Group 1 Jebel Hatta last season.
As if for good measure, De Kock has also entered Mushreq, who represents Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and UAE Minister of Finance.
De Kock, who has won the Al Fahidi on four occasions with Viscount (2012), Archipenko (2008), Yard-Arm (2005) and Ipi Tombe (2003), said: “This will be a fifth start this year for Mushreq, who is very fit and hopefully still improving. He deserves his chance in this company on turf.
“We had retired Musir but sadly he was infertile so he is back in training. He and Master Of Hounds are going to improve for this run but it looks a good spot to get them back on the track.”
Once more the De Kock trio’s main opponents are the Godolphin pair of Do It All and Mandaean.
Earlier in the evening, racing kicks-off with the Group 2 Bani Yas for Purebred Arabians, where the Doug Watson-trained Quite A Show looks to have genuine claims.