The international reputation of Ipi Tombe has helped limit the opposition to only five rivals as the South African champion makes her American racing debut Saturday in the $150,000-added Locust Grove Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill Downs.
The accomplishments of the Zimbabwe-bred daughter of Manshood are so remarkable that Ipi Tombe has been installed as an odds-on 4-5 morning line favorite for the Locust Grove, a 1 1/8-mile race for older fillies and mares.
Ipi Tombe's run in the Locust Grove will mark the first time that she's been saddled by new trainer Elliott Walden. After she launched her career in Zimbabwe, she moved to South Africa, where she became the first filly in 20 years and the first Zimbabwe-bred in a half-century to win Africa's premier race, the Durban July Handicap. Team Valor and WinStar Farm purchased majority interest in Ipi Tombe last fall and she was moved to Dubai for the winter, where she scored three dominating wins. The most recent was a romp over males in the $2 million Dubai Duty Free, which improved her record to 11-2-0 in 13 races and boosted her earnings $1,427,871.
Ipi Tombe arrived at Walden's Churchill Downs barn in early April and has been training sharply over the track's Matt Winn Turf Course in preparation for her U.S. debut in the Locust Grove.
"This is the kind that we get up for and she's shown me enough in the morning to know that she's for real," said Walden. "I'm looking forward to running her. It's exciting."
Pat Day, Churchill Downs' all-time leading rider and stakes winner, will be in the saddle aboard Ipi Tombe as she breaks from the rail post in the Locust Grove. He has worked Ipi Tombe twice in recent weeks to get acquainted with the horse proclaimed as Africa's best.
"She really accelerates -- I mean right now and she carries that on," Day said. "She'll rock you back in your seat. She's got great acceleration."
Ipi Tombe will carry high weight of 123 pounds, conceding six to 18 pounds to her rivals.
Should Ipi Tombe stumble in her U.S. debut, several horses that enjoyed success on the Churchill Downs turf will be ready to pick up the pieces. Carl Pollard's Kiss the Devil won the Early Times Mint Julep (gr. III) last time out. William S. Farish's Quick Tip won the Cardinal (gr. III) in the fall and was runner-up in both the Citgo Distaff Turf Mile (gr. III) and the ET Mint Julep this spring.
David Mounts' San Dare, fifth in the Mint Julep, was the runner-up to Quick Tip in the 2002 Cardinal. $150,000 Locust Grove (gr. IIIT), fillies & mares 3 & up, 1 1/8 mile on turf
PP. Horse (Weight), Jockey, ML Odds
1. Ipi Tombe (123), Pat Day, 4-5
2. Honorable Cat (105), John McKee, 30-1
3. San Dare (117), Mark Guidry, 9-2
4. Quick Tip (117), Robby Albarado, 3-1
5. Voodoo Lady (112), Larry Melancon, 15-1
6. Kiss The Devil (116), Lonnie Meche, 4-1