Yesterday marked a new chapter in the second life of one of our most famous graduates. Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifah Al Maktoum and Andre Macdonald’s spectacular race filly now-turned broodmare, Igugu, gave birth to a daughter; her first foal by the Juddmonte Farm celebrity, Dansili, leading British-based sire of Group winners for the past four seasons. Remarkably, for two such celebrated matrons now residing 5000 miles apart and just as removed from one another in distance aptitudes, with her big white blaze and flashy socks, this filly foal bears a striking resemblance to Avontuur’s lightning-fast champion sprinter, Val De Ra’s daughter by Frankel, many people’s idea of the best racehorse they’ve ever seen.
DANSILI - IGUGU
There’s always been plenty of sentiment at Summerhill around the horses we’ve known here, not only for those who’ve made a name for themselves at Greyville, Turffontein, Meydan and Ascot, but also for the battlers who eventually found solace in the better echelons of the polo and eventing worlds after endless toils in the maiden ranks. As long as they gave their all.
That said, there are some special ones that always seem to hog the headlines, not only for their God-given gifts, but especially for those moments of guts and valour that define their lives and are likely to define those they spawn. We’ll never forget the exhilaration of Igugu’s reign at the head of the nation’s racing affairs. She dominated the sport in the way Muhammad Ali dominated the heavyweights of the 1970s. The analogy is not meant to be trite: like Ali, Igugu was that rare phenomenon, a natural, which is to say, she made the hard things look easy, and the mundane look graceful: the qualities which in any sport, distinguish the gifted from the sluggish.
For all the love and affection she generated from the team at Summerhill for her accomplishments that winter, she earned our everlasting respect in Cape Town. Seven months earlier she’d taken down her erstwhile paddock-mate, Pierre Jourdan’s number in the nation’s greatest horserace, the Vodacom Durban July. It’s always tempting to compare one victory with another, and for Summerhill, Igugu gave us many to celebrate, particularly that epic battle. But we won’t compare them. Going into the J&B Met, Igugu had moved on again, and she was ready to show us another dimension. By the January of 2012, she’d been to the well several times since the ‘July', her preparation had been seriously impaired, and her mind was making appointments her body couldn’t keep.
In the days leading to the Met, there was all manner of conjecture on her condition in the popular press, most of the doomsday variety. There were any number of warnings from those who supposedly knew better, but the public would have none of it. They nailed Igugu solidly down to favouritism: these were the converted, and the pilgrims were already in Jerusalem. In nine consecutive outings, she never looked like letting them down, and she wasn’t going to start now. Yet here was something different: she faced the cream of the nation’s athletic talent, she was going in half-cocked, and whatever her history and origins, there are limits to all of us and what we can do.
When they turned for home, the 40,000 in the stands let rip. With 300 to go, there was no sign of Igugu, no fuselage of the usual gear changes, the crowd fell silent. In that instant, she lowered her head like she felt their anxiety, she gathered her limbs and summoned the last ounce of her will. Her body wanted to die, but her mind wouldn’t let it. Nine strides from the post, any one of three others looked like the winner. Igugu lunged at them, Bravura turned his head to look at her. The fire in his eyes seemed to dim. One should suspect humans who carelessly put words into the mouths of animals, but it appeared that Bravura was saying “oh no, not you again!”. As he slid off after the race, you could read the thoughts of Bravura’s rider, Anton Marcus. “I had her beaten, but when you’re dealing with Igugu, it’s always only half-over”. Igugu won by a growing neck. When Anthony Delpech dismounted, the champion journeymen dissolved in tears; it was love, pain and the whole darn thing. In an enchanted interlude, he’d won the Met, it was all too much.
Watch Igugu's imperious run in the 2012 J&B Met (Grade 1)
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. Briefly, the sport had returned to its most glorious days. For a moment, the punt doesn’t matter. For a moment, a horse is queen. Legless, but standing. 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, the odd horse, not much else. Of course there’s been oil and much more since, but now, and mainly because of Igugu, like Andre Macdonald, his former-electrician partner, Sheikh Mohammed was a folk hero, a good bloke, just like the rest of us.