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By Mike Moon

Horse racing correspondent

Charles Dickens heads for the stud-farm paddocks

Superstar miler won’t be lining up in next week’s Cape Town Met.

It took half of last Saturday morning for the syndication-to-stud shares in colt Charles Dickens to be snapped up – at R400,000 a pop. At that moment it was clear the four-year-old superstar, owned by Drakenstein Stud, would never race again. The financial risk was simply too great.

Racing fans are disappointed the popular champ won’t give next week’s WSB Cape Town Met a go – especially after his spanking victory in the recent L’Ormarins King’s Plate when he displayed all the early-career brilliance that once had seasoned watchers making comparisons with the legendary Sea Cottage of the 1960s.

But a horse race is filled with dangers and Charles Dickens had little more to prove on the racetrack – and certainly nothing to his greatly enlarged coterie of very interested owners.

Travel bans

A press release announcing the retirement made a pertinent point: “Racing in South Africa is filled with complications that other countries don’t have. Even travelling to Durban and the likelihood of not being able to get back for the start of the covering season is a possibility.

“An international career should be a reality for a horse of Charles Dickens’s brilliance; however, South Africa is blocked by the international community on racing our horses abroad.”

The Durban reference is of course about the possibility of unexpected African horse sickness (AFS) travel bans trapping the colt in KwaZulu-Natal if he were to campaign up the coast in the coming winter season – as unnecessary as such bans might be.

Similarly, AFS export quarantine protocols – also needlessly onerous and unfair – make international journeys nigh impossible.

Charles Dickens raced 13 times for 10 wins, two seconds and a third.

His three Grade 1 triumphs were in the 2022 Cape Guineas, the 2023 Gold Challenge and the King’s Plate – all over 1600m. He was last season’s Equus Champion Three-year old Colt and Champion Miler and accumulated prize money of R5,119,813.

‘Best horse I have ever trained’

The son of champion stallion Trippi won six races on the trot, two as a juvenile and four as a four-year-old, before being beaten for the first time – narrowly in the 2023 King’s Plate by Al Muthana.

His only other defeats came at the hands of fellow four-year-old See It Again – in the 2023 Cape Derby (2000m) and the 2024 Green Point Stakes (1600m).

His trainer Candice Bass-Robinson said this week: “Charles Dickens; the best horse I have ever trained without a shadow of a doubt. It’s been a wonderful journey and an honour to train an absolute gentleman with such sheer brilliance. He never had one issue in his career, extremely sound and never left an oat. Fondly known as ‘Goosebumps’.”

Jockey Aldo Domeyer, who rode him in every start, said: “I have felt some great horses do some great things in my career, but it all fades to a pale comparison when you add Charles to the equation. I’ve never ridden a horse who could do it as effortlessly, yet with that much potency at the same time. He’s simply a superstar. It has been an honour.”

‘Blessed with speed’

Drakenstein Stud owner Gaynor Rupert said: “Retiring Charles Dickens was a very hard decision to make. I would have loved to have seen him race until the end of the season. He would undoubtedly have won a few more big races, but he has nothing left to prove.

“It is in the interest of the horse and of the shareholders that, after much consultation, we decided to retire him and give him plenty of time off before the start of the breeding season.

“He was blessed with speed, an incredible turn of foot, sheer brilliance, intelligence and remarkable cadence. I’m sure he will pass these traits on to his future progeny and we can’t wait to see them.”

The number of syndication shares sold has not been revealed, but we can safely say the takings are many many millions. For their R400,000 plus VAT, the buyers get two nominations for mares for the first four seasons at stud – and the promise that Drakenstein, the country’s champion breeders, will support Charles Dickens with their best broodmares.

His namesake, a scribbler of old, once wrote: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

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