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…And humbled indeed he was. Mike de Kock, the trainer of great thoroughbreds like Horse Chestnut and Ipi Tombe, as well as a spate of others who ran mostly in South Africa and Dubai, had just been overwhelmed by the performance of his 4 year-old mare, Igugu.

Igugu means “jewel” or “treasure” in Zulu and that she most certainly is — and more. Just how much more remains to be seen.

South Africa’s 2010 Horse of the Year had come into the Southern Cape’s flagship race, the J & B Met, not quite herself. The daughter of Galileo had first been ill, then had to endure an 18-hour road trip to Cape Town, followed by almost complete isolation in quarantine in the days before the race. She had had little gusto to train up to the race. She appeared lacklustre at the start.

But then, the heart of a champion kicked into gear as the field turned for home…..

Igugu is to South African racing what fillies and mares like Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Rags To Riches and Dance Smartly are to North America, what Black Caviar is to Australia and Zarkava to France: a Superstar. That one thoroughbred in a million who brings passion, excitement and heart-stopping thrills to fan and punter alike each and every time they step onto the turf. Igugu joins the ranks of great female thoroughbreds worldwide who have so impressively stepped up over the better part of this decade to compete against all comers.

Igugu, the Queen of South African racing.

Her sire, Galileo (1998).

Her dam, the unraced Zarinia (2001) is a daughter of Intikhab (1994).

Igugu was born in Australia in 2007, the product of one of sire Galileo’s Southern Hemisphere visits. What can we say about Galileo? Even in countries where he has yet to set foot, he is known as a sire who likely carries the prepotency of Sadler’s Wells, together with the rich genetic material of his outstanding dam, Urban Sea. During her lifetime, Urban Sea not only won the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe for the Tsui family, but went on to become a Blue Hen, producing My Typhoon as well as still another equine giant, in the form of the incomparable Sea The Stars.

To return to Galileo — clearly the high hopes Coolmore invested in him has borne golden fruit.

Not only that, but this wonderful stallion has the knack of producing “golden” fillies as well as colts. To date, Galileo has sired talented fillies like Allegretto, Golden Lilac, Maybe, Lush Lashes, Together, Misty For Me and a half-sister to the great Goldikova, Galikova, who is well on her way to following in her big sister’s footsteps. As for colts, Galileo’s champion progeny include Frankel, Nathaniel, Treasure Beach, Cape Blanco, Soldier of Fortune, Rip Van Winkle, Red Rocks, Sixties Icon and the lightly raced, Teofilo.  If even one of these boys becomes a solid sire, then Galileo, at the ripe old age of 15, enters the high society of sire of sires. As for his daughters: who wouldn’t dream of a broodmare band with this quality and depth?

Igugu’s dam, Zarinia, never raced. And the filly’s broodmare sire, Intikhab, descends from the Roberto line. However, he has thus far proved only a moderate success, with arguably his biggest splash being the outstanding Snow Fairy (2007). Rounding out her pedigree is the fact that Igugu is inbred to Mr. Prospector (4 X 5) and Hail To Reason (5 X5).

Igugu in a conformation shot.

In 2009-2010, the 2 year-old Igugu started 5 times, winning 3 and coming in second twice. The two she lost in her maiden year are the only 2 races in what is now a total of 12 starts. Since February 2011, Igugu has done nothing but win. Here she is breaking her maiden under jockey Randall Simons, who rode her throughout her 2 year-old season:

Like many of the Galileo’s, Igugu at 2 was high-strung, inclined to sweat up before a race and got so wound up that her favourite running style involved charging out of the gate as though her tail were on fire, grabbing the lead and then running away from the field. She’s stayed pretty much the same throughout her career. But at the beginning, given her sweats and slightly wild-eyed temperament, Mike de Kock was not prepared to label her brilliant, although he knew that she had some potential. Any experienced trainer will tell you that even great ability can be swamped by a nervous sensibility. So the jury was out on Igugu for most of her 2 year-old season.

The love of Mike de Kock’s career will always be the masterful Horse Chestnut (1995), a winner of the South African Triple Crown. The handsome chestnut also came from the Northern Dancer – Sadler’s Wells sire lines, as does Igugu. If truth were to be told, de Kock’s very private view was that Horse Chestnut had been THE horse of his lifetime.

The magnificent Horse Chestnut.

While it is true that for every trainer there is typically one thoroughbred who sweeps him/her off their feet in a love story that lasts forever, when Igugu embarked on her own Triple Crown campaign — South Africa’s Triple Tiara, first instituted in 1999 — she gave her trainer’s loyalty to his Triple Crown champion colt a run for its money.

Follow each victory from your own seat in THE VAULT’S GRANDSTAND, beginning with the 2011 Gauteng Fillies Guineas:

Second leg: the Grade One SA Fillies Classic:

And then, the race that brought them to their feet, the SA Oaks:

And there you are. In the speed of a heartbeat, Galileo’s little girl became the very first winner of SA’s Triple Tiara, giving Mike de Kock an unprecedented two such champions in his career.

Igugu after her courageous win against the colts in her first start of 2012.

At this point in 2012, Igugu’s story begins where this article started. Future plans include the possibility of running her in Dubai.

But we think that it’s fair to say that after her victory in the J & B Met in January, Igugu left the track to take up residence right next to Horse Chestnut, in the chambers of her trainer’s heart.

South Africa's sweetheart and her regular jockey, Anthony Delpech. Delpech took over from Simons when Igugu started her Triple Tiara campaign.

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