02/19/2013 1:51PM

Dubai: South African champ Igugu returns in Balanchine Stakes

Kim Pratt
Master of Hounds will try to rebound in Thursday's $250,000 Al Fahidi Fort at Meydan.

Igugu, a 6-year-old Australian-bred who was the South Africa Horse of the Year in 2011-12, will be a heavy favorite to win her first start in Dubai in Thursday’s $200,000 Balanchine Stakes at Meydan Racecourse.

A mare by Galileo, Igugu won the Group 1 J&B Met, the top race for milers in South Africa, in January 2012, her most recent start. In the Balanchine Stakes over about 1 1/8 miles on turf, Igugu is part of a field of seven.

The Balanchine could lead to a start on the Dubai World Cup program on March 30 for Igugu, who races for Andre MacDonald and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.

Igugu is trained by Michael de Kock. Part of the reason for her lengthy layoff has been the quarantine procedure to make Igugu eligible to race in Dubai. Igugu underwent more than four months of quarantine in three countries in the second half of 2012.

After a 20-day quarantine in South Africa that began last summer, she was part of a group of Dubai-bound horses trained by de Kock that were required to spend 90 days in the Indian Ocean country of Mauritius before continuing to England for an additional 30 days of quarantine. They were then sent to Dubai.

[DUBAI RACING: Watch Thursday's Meydan card live, bet with DRF Bets]

The lengthy quarantine was designed to certify that the runners were free of African horse sickness.

In the Balanchine, Igugu faces a field that includes three runners owned by Godolphin Racing – Dark Orchid, Sajjhaa, and Spellwork.

Sajjhaa won the Group 2 Cape Verdi Stakes for fillies and mares over a mile in Dubai on Jan. 24 and has the strongest chance of the three.

In Thursday’s $250,000 Al Fahidi Fort, the European group stakes winner Master of Hounds tries to rebound from a disappointing end to 2012.

Master of Hounds, fifth in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, was eighth in the 2012 Dubai World Cup. He won the Group 2 International Topkapi Trophy in Turkey last September, but was 10th in the Hong Kong Mile in December.

Trained by de Kock, Master of Hounds makes his first start of 2013 in the Al Fahidi Fort. The Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort is run over a mile on turf. De Kock has three of the 10 runners, including Musir, winner of the 2010 United Arab Emirates Derby, who has not raced since finishing seventh in the Champions’ Mile in Hong Kong last May.

Godophin starts Mandaean, who won the Group 1 Criterium de Saint Cloud in France in 2011 as a 2-year-old and a minor handicap race at Meydan last month.