Watch Soft Falling Rain winning the Nayef Joel Stakes (Group 2)
(Image : Sporting Life / Footage : Racing UK)
“Soft Falling Rain was having none of it,
punishing his foes with a pulsating drive for the line.”
Were you watching Friday’s racing at Newmarket in England? Igugu made her long-awaited return to the races, and Soft Falling Rain was being asked whether he was worthy of a place in the line-up for the mile championship of Europe, Ascot’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Gr.1).
Let’s begin with Igugu. She’d been off the racecourse for five months following hormonal complications from which she’s been suffering ever since she went into quarantine on departure from South Africa in early 2012. On Friday, she was running at a distance short of her best, and while the news from the yard was that she’d “turned the corner”, there was no doubt, she’d need the run. If you don’t mind, we’ll revisit our remarks in these columns after she’d followed up her July win with victory in the J&B Met.
“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 down solidly 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, 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 fusillade of her customary 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. The commentator was now in staccato mode. Nine strides from the post, any one of three others looked the winner. Igugu lunged at them, Bravura turned his head to look at her. The fire in his eye seemed to dim. One should suspect humans who carelessly put words into the mouths of animals, but it appeared as though 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 journeyman dissolved in tears. It was love and pain and the whole darned thing. In an enchanted interlude, he wins the Met; it was all too much.”
“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.”
To be frank, we wondered then whether she’d ever come back. In the back of our minds, there was still some doubt, even now. Yet on Friday she took up the running after 600 metres, and for a moment, she drew away as if she were in her own division. Nothing but her lack of condition cost her the race. It seems she’s no longer hurting, and she’s no longer cycling: the will was there, just not the “vuma”. On this evidence, she’ll have her day again.
As for Soft Falling Rain, his was a masterclass. Briefly allow us a bit of sentiment, before we talk about his race. The Highlands-bred was sent to Summerhill after his purchase by Angus Gold in January 2011. He was a decent enough colt with an outstanding pedigree, but the fact that in a sale which saw many million Rand purchases and an average of R404,000, at R350,000, it can be said that he was no standout. It says something for Gold’s judgment that he saw the potential in this colt, because he never stopped improving physically from the day he arrived. By the time he left us, his education, whilst far from complete, was well on its way to revealing a racehorse.
On Friday, he made no bones about where he’s heading. Yes, he surrendered his unbeaten record in a relatively modest Group 2 at Newbury last up, and there were more than a few who suggested it was to be expected: after all, his form was suspect as it stood, being South Africa and UAE-oriented. On Friday, he stuffed a rag into the mouths of the doubters, powering away from the time he hit the front at the halfway mark, and posting the toughest of fractions all the way to the line. Those of us that know the Newmarket straight mile were always going to be concerned about how he’d handle the final two furlongs on the uphill slope, given that he may have been lacking the stamina this would demand. He was a Group One winner at “six”, let’s not forget. Soft Falling Rain was having none of it, punishing his foes with a pulsating drive for the line.
Much smarter judges than ourselves, including the on-course reviewer, dubbed it “world class”; he’d thrust himself right onto the world stage, lifting the esteem of Dubai form to the same level. The encouraging thing is, he’ll be better for the run, and he’ll make them pick up their feet at Ascot. Dawn Approach, Toronado, Sky Lantern, the lot.