“traditional poet of the Zulu or Xhosa people who composes poetry
in praise of a leader”
(Photo : HKJC/inkokhelo/Nicholas Goss/AfricanSkies)

News filtering in from the UK is that Imbongi is set to make his European debut at Newmarket’s July Course this Saturday afternoon, June 27. (16h25 our time on DSTV Channel232)

Following a string of fine efforts in Hong Kong and Dubai earlier in the year, Mike de Kock’s charge is one of 18 challengers entered for the £65,000 Group Three John Bovington Memorial Criterion Stakes to be run over seven-furlongs.

The South African fighter finished a staying-on sixth last time out in the Group One Champions Mile at Sha Tin on April 26. Imbongi had previously been fourth in two Group Two races at Nad Al Sheba and was narrowly denied on his seasonal debut at the same course in a valuable seven-furlong handicap, when he just failed to collar Hatta Fort.

In South Africa last year, the Summerhill-bred Imbongi proved himself to be one of the leading milers of his generation, starting with electrifying victories in the Grade Two Gauteng Guineas at Turffontein in March and the Grade Two KZN Guineas at Greyville in April before returning to Greyville in May to destroy five previous Grade One winners in the Grade Two Drill Hall Stakes, including South African “Horse of the Year, Pocket Power.

Mike de Kock revealed to Newmarket Racecourse correspondents : “Imbongi is an intended runner in the John Bovington Memorial Criterion Stakes as things stand. He worked on the Rowley Mile with Diana’s Choice two weeks ago and he took it well. I think that seven furlongs to a mile is his best trip and the forecast ground should be an advantage for him.”

“We had some poor ventilation in Dubai and some of the horses bled out there but he still showed a decent level of form, including when he finished in front of Vodka in a Group Two in March.”

“It wasn’t a bad performance in Hong Kong either, when he ran from quite far back. Alexandros was a neck behind him on that occasion and he went on to be second in the Lockinge Stakes, so we have some collateral form to work with.”

“Some of the top milers around ran in that race and he was too far out of his ground, but he still ran on well in the closing stages. We will hopefully start him off at Newmarket and then take his season from there.”

Imbongi looks set to face some tough opposition including Racer Forever, who got the better of King Of Dixie in a thrilling finish to last year’s race. Subsequent Group One winner Court Masterpiece was also narrowly denied in 2005 and the nine-year-old, now in the care of John Quinn after a spell at stud, could return to Newmarket following a fine third in a York conditions race on his first start for more than two years.

Ancien Regime may make his Godolphin debut following a progressive three-year-old campaign for Michael Jarvis that included victory in the Sprint on the Rowley Mile and a close sixth in the Group One Sprint Cup at Doncaster in September, while Huntdown, third in last year’s Group One Shadwell Middle Park Stakes, could also make his first appearance for Saeed bin Suroor, having previously been trained by John Gosden.

Other notable entries include Winker Watson, who enjoyed Group Two success on the July Course in the TNT July Stakes in 2007, last season’s Group One Stan James sponsored 1000 Guineas fifth Dream Eater, as well as Laa Rayb and Balthazaar’s Gift, who were third and fourth respectively in the Group Two Victor Chandler Challenge Stakes on the Rowley Mile in October.