Dubai disappointment might be just the tonic for Igugu
De Kock's travelling assistant says outstanding mare keeps improving with each run and can repeat former stablemates' feats in the QE II Cup
Mike de Kock has already trained two winners of the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup and the South African's travelling assistant Steven Jell is hoping an established pattern can repeat on Sunday.
Irridescence had more to offer when she arrived for the 2006 QE II Cup after being a late scratching minutes before the Duty Free on Dubai World Cup night. Two years later, Archipenko had foot issues before he ran third in the Duty Free but was in better shape at Sha Tin a few weeks on.
Jell travelled with both those winners and said outstanding mare Igugu was another on the way up after three defeats in Dubai, where many saw her as a flop under a huge weight of expectation from her career in South Africa.
Igugu won 10 of 12 at home, including the Durban July and J&B Met, before she went on the tough world tour required of South African horses travelling abroad.
"It was probably the longest time she's ever had off. It's a long period of confinement and some adapt and some don't," Jell said. "Igugu is a big, robust horse, and you can't put them out of work too long.
"And in quarantine, they do go out of work - we exercise them but they're not doing much. And she had problems even among the problems that we have anyway with a horse having, I think, 157 days off. She had an interrupted prep in Mauritius, then in the UK. Once you're on the back foot, you're always playing catch-up."
First-up at Meydan, she was third to Sunday's rival, Sajjhaa, as an odds-on favourite, then unplaced behind her in the Jebel Hatta and Dubai Duty Free, but closer each time.
"That was the promising thing - she was getting better and definitely not going backwards," he said. "Every run she improved, not just her performance but physically. With that time off, she hasn't had a hard season and I think she's still on the up."
A veteran of 10 trips to Hong Kong's major races, Jell said a different training approach had been taken with Igugu and Treasure Beach, De Kock's second runner and a fairly recent stable acquisition for the yard.
"In the past we've come two weeks before and they've done plenty but this time we did most of the work in Dubai before they got on the plane," he said. "On Wednesday, they had just a pipe-opener and we might do something similar [today]."
Treasure Beach ran ninth in the 2012 QE II for Aidan O'Brien and finished midfield on the Tapeta in Dubai at two starts since joining De Kock, who has spoken positively about the former Irish Derby winner.
"He came to us quite late after running in the Breeders' Cup in November and had a break going into Dubai," Jell said.
"With Aidan, and now us, taking him around the world for these top races, he shows he has the ability but he needs to get lucky. He needs things to go 100 per cent right on the day to bring out that ability."
Both horses have appeared to be feeling the warm, humid conditions but the travelling assistant said their sweating was nothing to worry about.