The $200,000 Balanchine Sponsored by Al Naboodah Construction Group (UAE-II) Feb. 21 at Meydan attracted seven entrants, but the field is overshadowed by the presence of South African Horse of the Year Igugu, who will make her highly anticipated return from a year-long layoff and first start abroad.
Trainer Mike de Kock will try for a record sixth win in the 1,800-meter ( about 1 1/8-mile) turf race with the 5-year-old Galileo mare. She has not raced since a thrilling, late-charging victory over Bravura in the Investec J&B Met (SAf-I) on January 28, 2012, in her most recent outing, and combined with her triumph in the 2011 Vodacom Durban July (SAf-I) nearly seven months earlier, she completed a rare double in South Africa's two premier races—a feat not accomplished in 75 years.
De Kock is hoping Igugu will be back to best after a year off. She is a nominee to the $10-million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) on March 30.
"She is a gutsy filly and a courageous filly, and I hope she returns to the form she is capable of as she is world class and can win on the world stage," de Kock told The National about his star mare, who will be ridden by Christophe Soumillon.
The J&B Met capped a seven-race win streak that included Igugu's dominating sweep of the nation's 2011 Triple Crown for fillies by a combined margin of 20 lengths—the Gauteng Fillies Guineas (SAf-II), South Africa Fillies Classic (SAf-I), and South African Oaks (SAf-I).
Following her J&B Met win, Igugu will start back against her own sex in the Balanchine, which de Kock has dominated in nine years since the race was first run in 2004. He sent out the winners of the two previous editions of the race, scoring with Mahbooba last year and River Jetez in 2011. He also took the race with Sun Classique (2008), who followed up with a win in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I); Irridescence (2006); and Moon Dazzle (2005).
Igugu also is nominated the $5-million Dubai Sheema Classic as well as the $5-million Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I), both on Dubai World Cup night.
Owned by the partnership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum and Andre MacDonald, Australian-bred Igugu has only previously raced in South Africa. She has not been idle in her long period of quarantine, training quite a bit in Mauritius and in England, where she popped a splint after a workout at Newmarket. Since arriving in Dubai Nov. 7 training has since gone smoothly as she acclimated to her new surroundings.
The field for the Balanchine includes Godolphin's Sajjhaa, a 6-year-old King's Best mare who won the Cape Verdi Sponsored by Meydan Hotels (UAE-II) by 3 3/4 lengths Jan. 24 for trainer Saeed bin Suroor. Last season at York, she finished second to Izzi Top, a subsequent group I winner in Ireland and France, in the Betfred Middleton Stakes (Eng-II).
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