War Of Athena could be the next big thing in local horse racing following in Igugu’s footsteps
The great Igugu made history ten years ago when becoming the first to land the Wilgerbosdrift SA Triple Tiara before going on to win the Vodacom Durban July and the filly who is attempting to emulate her, War Of Athena, has had a remarkably similar three-year-old career to date.
Another similarity between the 2010/2011 season and this one is the challenge issued by the Mike de Kock team to Justin Snaith to bring his best up to Johannesburg.
Igugu, an Australian-bred by Galileo, did not race as a two-year-old but won her first three starts as a three-year-old before suffering her first defeat in the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup over 1400m.
War Of Athena's first and only defeat this season was also in the Emperor's Palace Ready To Run Cup.
Igugu then traveled to Cape Town and was beaten in the Grade 1 Cape Fillies Guines by the Snaith-trained Ebony Flyer.
She had no luck in the running and later, after Igugu had despatched a Wilgerbosdrift Gauteng Fillies Guineas field with consummate ease, jockey Anthony Delpech issued a challenge to Ebony Flyer's connections to bring her up to Johannesburg.
Ebony Flyer's owner Barry Irwin's response was that the ball was in the court of Igugu to seek a rematch with Ebony Flyer. Some of his sentiments irked the De Kock camp and the embers of the great trainer's rivalry with Snaith, and its accompanying banter, can probably be found in that incident.
Igugu was never defeated in her home country again and is acknowledged as one of South Africa's greatest ever female racehorses.
She was not only the first to win the Triple Tiara but is also one of only four three-year-old fillies to win the July and one of only seven horses to win both the July and the Met.
She deserved better than her untimely passing on 24 November, 2016, particularly as it was only reported the following July after a writer stumbled across an entry in an Australian Stud Book.
The news of her passing came as a huge shock to Mike de Kock. who at the time said, "it boggles my mind that it took the best part of a year for us to get to know about Igugu’s death when she’s the type of mare who’d deserve a state funeral! Igugu was a wonderful champion in all respects, a top mare with vast amounts of courage and a big favourite to all in the yard."
Anthony Delpech rode Igugu eight times for seven wins and a second and has fond memories of his time with her.
"She was definitely the best filly I have ever ridden, she could do anything. She could lead or if the pace was fast you could sit in behind. But she was not an easy ride, she always used to take a hold. If there was no pace on over a mile she preferred to be let go like we did in the Ipi Tombe."
Despite coming off a five month layoff in the Ipi Tombe she set a cracking pace and stretched clear in the straight to win by 5,3 lengths easing up.
"But, if there was a fast pace she was able to quicken and there were not many over here who could go with her. She did have speed out of the gates as a three-year-old but by the end of her time here she had become more of a dour stayer, she had the stamina to outstay them", said Delpech.
In 2009 Mick Goss's Summerhill Stud bought Igugu for Aus$65,000 with the aim of pinhooking her at the Ready To Run Sale.
Igugu was knocked down for R1 million at the latter sale to popular owner Andre MacDonald with De Kock the underbidder.
Igugu left the sales venue as the property of MacDonald and a consortium called the Summerhill Stud syndicate.
MacDonald sent her to trainer Brett Webber.
However, she was only with Webber for three months before being transferred to the De Kock yard.
Delpech rode her for the first time in the Cape Fillies Guineas where she was caught wide and was unable to catch the top class Ebony Flyer, losing by 1,25 lengths.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum bought out the Summerhill Syndicate's share after that race and she won the Triple Tiara in his colours. All three legs were won by wide margins and she followed it with an equally easy win in the Grade 1 Woolavington 2000.
In the July, where she started 2/1 favourite, she used her early pace to take the lead. Delpech eased her back into third rounding the Drill Hall. She quickened off the false rail and held off the chargers to win by 0,90 lengths.
Five months later Igugu's impressive victory in the Ipi Tombe chased away the opposition for the Grade 1 Paddock Stakes in Cape Town.
However, she was scratched before travelling.
De Kock recalled, “She had a respiratory problem and an ongoing foot problem and that left us behind in our preparation for the Met. We ended up having to work her twice a day to catch up. She worked on the track in the morning and on the treadmill in the afternoon. There are not many horses that would have been able to take the work we gave her. But she was always willing to do whatever you asked her.”
To compound matters she had to reside under vector protected quarantine conditions until race day.
She did not have her usual speed in the race and was left with a lot to do to catch Bravura.
Only pure courage got her over the line.
Her Met effort must have told and was perhaps the reason she did not live up to expectations overseas.
Igugu had two foals, both British-breds by Dansili, and the last of them, a colt called El Misk, has won three races and had four seconds for John Gosden in ten starts.