x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Cloud-clearing in Rainbow Nation

Trainer Mike de Kock will bring more horses to the country once South Africa lifts its export ban, which is imminent, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

The Tapeta at Meydan Racecourse, which returned slow times last week, is likely to 'tighten up'. Mike Young / The National
The Tapeta at Meydan Racecourse, which returned slow times last week, is likely to 'tighten up'. Mike Young / The National

Mike de Kock has sent his smallest raiding party in recent seasons to the UAE ahead of the Dubai World Cup Carnival because of continued quarantine restrictions, but the South African trainer is buoyed by the news that he may be able to ship direct to Dubai in the future.

De Kock has restricted himself to 21 horses ahead of this season's extravaganza at Meydan Racecourse, which starts on January 10, because of the problems with African horse sickness. It has resulted in his string having to endure 111 days of isolation just to get to the UAE.

His select band of equine blue-bloods include the South African champion mare Igugu, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, as well as Soft Falling Rain, the Rainbow Nation's brightest juvenile last season who runs in the silks of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.

De Kock is confident that the direct export ban from South Africa will be lifted in May next year, which paves the way for increased numbers in the future.

"Everyone is working pretty hard on it. Legislation has changed and I am confident we will sort things out," De Kock said. "I think I would bring a bigger team as it would be a lot easier for us.

"It is still a very expensive operation but Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa's dream is to win in Dubai so we will always bring his horses. So long as we know the door is open and we know the costs, we will take [a chance]."

The World Organisation for Animal Health made changes to their code to African horse sickness in May and South Africa has made moves to internationalise its equestrian industry once again.

Peter Gibson, the chief executive of South Africa Racing, has come up with a four-step plan to drive through the legislation and if South Africa does not suffer another outbreak of the disease the embargo should be lifted on May 3.

Gibson said that South Africa's major trading partners, with the exception of Qatar, have elected to align themselves with the European Union, whose legislation dictates a 24-month suspension following the February 2011 outbreak.

"The EU is expected to send an inspection team before, hopefully, presenting a recommendation to their parliament to lift the embargo," Gibson said.

Until then, De Kock will make do. He faces one of the greatest challenges of his long career to get Igugu and his other horses to showcase their true worth in the northern hemisphere.

Igugu, who will be released from quarantine in Dubai later this month, has not run since overcoming an 18-day quarantine inside South Africa and a respiratory infection to win the Group 1 J&B Met in January.

In addition to her four victories at the highest level, the daughter of Galileo has won over distances between 1,200m and 2,450m, to give her a career record of 10 wins from 12 starts. Her ability to race over a variety of distances means De Kock is still undecided as to her ultimate target on Dubai World Cup night.

The Dubai Duty Free on turf over 1,800m would be the obvious target, while the Dubai Sheema Classic over 610m further is also a possibility. And then there is the question of whether De Kock should aim her for the world's most valuable race, staged on Tapeta.

"She hasn't really done a heck of a lot for a year," De Kock said. "She has done a lot of long, steady work. She will have at most three runs in the Carnival, but probably only two as we are hoping to campaign her in Europe afterwards. We don't want to burn her out.

"Her best trip is over 10 furlongs. She is untried on the all-weather and it is something I will have to discuss with the Sheikh. Of course if the Sheikh is keen to run her in the World Cup then we will have to try her out on the Tapeta, and we might just do that."

Not all of De Kock's horses have had to endure this tortuous journey, however. De Kock has recruited the proven international performers Treasure Beach, a winner at the highest level on two continents for the Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, and his stablemate Daddy Long Legs, last season's UAE Derby winner. They arrive in the UAE later this month. Seven horses, spearheaded by Zanzamar, the 2011 UAE 2000 Guineas runner-up, also remained in Dubai during the summer under the care of De Kock's assistant Trevor Brown.

Treasure Beach's ultimate aim will be the Dubai Sheema Classic, while the proven ability of Daddy Long Legs to handle Tapeta would make him a lively candidate for the World Cup.

"With fewer horses we have brought more quality," De Kock said.

"With 21 horses they are not all going to be group level though. If we can come out with at least one real nice horse for the World Cup then we would have done a good job."

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