Click above to watch Igugu’s win in the 2012 J&B Met (Grade 1)
(Image : Gold Circle - Footage : SABC3)
Emperors Palace National Yearling Sale
TBA Sales Complex, Germiston, South Africa
27 - 29 April 2012
Today would’ve been business as usual at Summerhill, if it were not for the fact that it’s the departure date for our horses headed for the Emperors Palace National Yearling Sales. You only have to enter the Hall of Fame at our School of Management Excellence, to know what it means to us. So many great horses adorn the walls, so many warriors who fought the brave battle in the cause of our championships, and more than a few in every National Sales draft. By the time they leave, these fellows are “family”; we’ve played the role of “god” in planning the union of their parents, we’ve been the mid-wife when they arrived, and they’ve been hand- raised, step-by-meticulous-step, to this point. Now they have names, they’ve got personalities, and they’re carrying the brand.
There’ll be more than a touch of nostalgia as they take their first tentative steps onto the float, and while the old rituals where the woman and the children would serenade them off the premises are no longer (headmasters take school too seriously these days), it’s a strange world they’re entering when they first set foot on the big “dog” that tows them to Johannesburg.
You can’t help getting sentimental at times like these, and you can’t help remembering a couple that went before them. Just yesterday, I passed a paddock of weanlings, and I caught a glance of Hear The Drums in the midst of them. Just a fortnight before, there were a few among this lot verging on delinquency, looking like they needed reform school. The fellow in their midst is not an old man, but he has the grace and the wisdom of a sage, and already there is a sense of decorum in the bunch. Hear The Drums was a once-in-a-lifetime racehorse. Literally. He’s been where no other racehorse in South Africa has ever been. He took the “around-they-go-again” sameness out of the game, except in the number of times he visited the Number One box. This was a man who gave us not one, but 35 undying moments.
Pierre Jourdan isn’t that big, his parents weren’t famous, and he didn’t cost much as a youngster. But he doesn’t know any of this. In his first year at the races, he captured the hearts of fans across the nation. When he raced home in the SA Classic, the crowd clapped him all the way to the winner’s circle. “PJ” was briefly more a deity than a horse. A prominent member of the Catholic clergy was so overcome, he forgot the injunction against worshipping graven images. He asked for, and received a few coppery hairs from “PJ’s” tail.
As Mike de Kock left the mounting yard for Imbongi’s assault on the Dubai Festival’s richest mile, he said “no excuses today”. He didn’t need any. Destiny came rushing up to embrace him. When Christophe Soumillon said “laisse alle”, Imbongi surged away, shaking off the hangers-on, much as Oscar Pistorius might farewell a bunch of neighbourhood joggers.
Much as we’re tempted to recall the memory of the epic battle between Igugu and Pierre Jourdan in last year’s Vodacom Durban July, we won’t. Igugu has moved on since then, and she showed us another dimension in this year’s J&B Met. She’d been to the well so many times, her preparation had been severely interrupted, and she was feeling the effects of all sorts of bodily intrusions.
There was all kind of negative conjecture in the popular press, there were any number of warnings from those who supposedly know better, but the public would have none of it. They nailed Igugu down solidly to favouritism, as if they knew she wouldn’t let them down. The truth is, in nine consecutive runs, she never looked like doing so, yet here was something different. She faced the cream of South Africa’s athletic talent, she was going in half-cocked, and whatever her history and origins, there are limits to everyone of us and what we can do.
When they turned for home, the 40,000 in the stands let it rip. With 300 to go, there was no sign of Igugu, let alone the characteristic burst. The crowd fell silent.
In that instant, she lowered her head, like she shared their anxiety, she gathered her limbs and every ounce of will-power within her. Her body wanted to die, but her mind wouldn’t let it. Nine strides from the post, anyone of three others looked the winner. Igugu lunged at them, Bravura turned his head to look at her. His eye seemed to change. One should suspect humans who carelessly put words into the mouths of animals, but it seemed as if Bravura was saying “oh no, not you again”. When he dismounted after the race, Anton Marcus, who was riding Bravura, put it another way:
“I had her beaten, but if you’re dealing with Igugu, it’s always only half-over”. Igugu won by a growing neck.
The crowd gave Igugu a standing ovation as she passed the post, with the yellow lights of the infield timing board showing she’d equalled the long-standing record, which meant Bravura must’ve come close too. But it was Igugu’s day, she owned Kenilworth as no horse had since Empress Club. Ever so briefly, the sport had returned to its most glorious days. Wave after wave of cheering rushed over sunny Kenilworth, the horses and jockeys were exhausted. It had all been too brave.
In the public mind, Sheikh Mohammed had been transformed. Before the arrival of Igugu, he was known as one of those rich blokes with hundreds of horses, a distant and regal figure, which is unfair when you know him. He’d never tried to be anything but what he was, his family had come from the land of the Bedouin, and they’d started out with a few camels, goats and not much else. Of course there’s been oil and much more since then, but now, and mainly because of Igugu, like his partner Andre Macdonald, Sheikh Mohammed was a folk hero, a good bloke, just like the rest of us.
That’s what a Summerhill horse can do for you. See you at Block A, TBA Sales Complex, the rest of this week.