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Igugu makes long-awaited return in Balanchine

Igugu, the 2011-12 South African Horse of the Year, makes her eagerly awaited U.A.E. debut in Thursday evening's Group 2 Balanchine, an 1800-meter turf race restricted to fillies and mares.

Foaled in Australia, Igugu has raced with distinction in South Africa for Mike de Kock, winning 10 of her 12 starts, including the 2011 Group 1 Durban July and last year's Group 1 J & B Met at the end of January. That was her most recent start and her trainer is looking forward to getting her back on track.

"It is almost 13 months since she ran, but she has been working well and we are very happy with her fitness levels and preparation for this comeback run," de Kock said. "She is far from fully wound up but is ready for a run.

"She is going straight into a Group 2 race which is a big ask after such a long break, but we need to find out if that competitive edge is still there after such a long time off and a long trip to get here."

Godolphin's Sajjhaa won the earlier Dubai World Cup Carnival fillies and mares contest, the Group 2 Cape Verdi over 1600 meters, and is penalized as a result. She does have race fitness on her side, though.

"She won well first time and has improved in her work since then," trainer Saeed bin Suroor said. "The extra 200 meters will suit her but she carries a penalty in a better race and Igugu looks a big danger for Mike de Kock.

"We also have Spellwork and Dark Orchid in the race as they were when Sajjhaa won last time. Both should run well and are definitely fitter now."

Lily's Angel, trained by Ger Lyons, is one of two Irish-trained runners in the race and has experience on her side, having won a 1400-meter all-weather handicap on the first night of the 2013 Dubai World Cup Carnival. An improving four-year-old, she is defending a 100 percent strike rate having won all four of her most recent starts, but faces by far her stiffest test to date.

The other featured Thoroughbred race is the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort, a race de Kock has won on four occasions, and South African-trained horses have landed the prize seven times since 2003.

The South African is responsible for three of the 10 runners this year with Mushreq, seeking a second 2013 victory, joined by reappearing duo Musir and the penalized Master of Hounds, both Meydan regulars.

"This will be a fifth start this year for Mushreq who is very fit and hopefully still improving. He deserves his chance in this company on turf," de Kock said. "We had retired Musir but sadly he was infertile so he is back in training. He and Master of Hounds are going to improve for this run but it looks a good spot to get them back on the track."

Both Godolphin trainers are represented with Silvestre de Sousa on Do It All for Saeed bin Suroor and Mickael Barzalona aboard the Mahmood Al Zarooni-trained Mandaean, winner of a course-and-distance handicap four weeks ago from English challenger Don't Call Me, again in opposition.

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