Igugu Bids For Balanchine Glory

South Africa’s Horse of the Year Makes Dubai Debut

Igugu, the 2011-12 South African Horse Of The Year, makes her eagerly awaited UAE debut in Thursday evening’s Group 2 Balanchine Stakes, an 1800m turf race restricted to fillies and mares.

The entire seven-race card is sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group.

Foaled in Australia, she has raced with distinction in South Africa for Mike De Kock, winning ten of her 12 starts, including the 2011 Group 1 Durban July and last year’s J & B Met at the end of January.

That was her most recent start and her trainer is looking forward to getting her back on track. “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’s Sajjhaa won the earlier Dubai World Cup Carnival fillies and mares contest, the Group 2 Cape Verdi over 1600m and is penalised as a result. She does have race fitness on her side though and her trainer, Saeed bin Suroor said: “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.”

Lily’s Angel, trained by Ger Lyons, is one of two Irish-trained runners in the race and has experience on her side, having won a 1400m all-weather handicap on the first night of the 2013 Dubai World Cup Carnival. An improving four-year old, she is defending a 100 per cent strike rate having won all four of her most recent starts but faces by far her stiffest test to date.

The other featured Thoroughbred race is the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort, a race De Kock has won on four occasions and South African-trained horses have landed the prize seven times since 2003.

The South African is responsible for three of the ten runners this year with Mushreq, seeking a second 2013 victory, joined by reappearing duo, Musir and the penalized Master Of Hounds, both Meydan regulars.

“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.”

Both Godolphin trainers are represented with Silvestre De Sousa on Do It All for Saeed bin Suroor and Mickael Barzalona aboard the Mahmood Al Zarooni-trained Mandaean, winner of a course and distance handicap four weeks ago from UK challenger Don’t Call Me, again in opposition.