If anyone needed proof that Candice Bass-Robinson was in the top rank of racehorse trainers, her star colt Charles Dickens provided it at Kenilworth on Saturday.
The son of Trippi won the venerable L’Ormarins King’s Plate in emphatic style and set the record straight about the identity of the best miler in the land.
This was largely thanks to Bass-Robinson’s intervention in “schooling” the four-year-old, eliminating his “bad habit” of hanging out in the closing stages of races and getting him back to his electrifying peak.
Bass-Robinson revealed on Monday how she brought in former employee Belinda Haytread to work with Charles Dickens after his third place in early-December’s Green Point Stakes – a race he started as the hot 5-10 favourite.
“It would take too long to explain exactly what we did to stop the bad hanging, but essentially we did schooling work to get his body more balanced, to get him galloping on a more level plane,” said the Milnerton-based conditioner.
The hanging issue dates back at least a year, to when Charles Dickens was narrowly beaten by Al Muthana in the 2023 King’s Plate – after drifting outwards in the final strides. The same problem was evident in his next race, the Cape Derby, when he lost out to See It Again – and again in his Gold Challenge victory at Greyville in June last year.
“Belinda is a long-standing friend of mine. She’s a top showjumper and rode work for me until about two years ago, when an injury forced her to stop. I asked her to come in and she did an amazing job with Charles.”
Bass-Robinson candidly admitted her charge was “a much fitter horse” on Saturday than when he’d disappointed in the Green Point, but emphatically dismissed TV pundit talk that he had become coltish, had developed overly large neck muscles and needed gelding to get him back to his best.
“What absolute rubbish!” exclaimed the blonde maestro. “His neck is perfectly normal.”
She would not be drawn on Charles Dickens’s future. “We haven’t decided anything yet. We’ll leave it for at least a week before discussing any plans. He is entered for the Cape Town Met [in three weeks’ time] but there’s no certainty he’ll run.”
She also deflected any suggestion of the colt retiring to stud soon – this after owner Gaynor Rupert said in the King’s Plate winner’s circle that Charles Dickens represented “the future” of her all-conquering Drakenstein Stud.
Rupert, Drakenstein and Bass-Robinson had a dream day at Kenilworth, capturing both the King’s Plate and the Grade 1 companion feature the Cartier Paddock Stakes – apt reward as the Ruperts’ L’Ormarins wine brand sponsors South Africa’s most elegant race meeting.
Paddock Stakes victor Beach Bomb, a three-year-old that pipped Equus Horse of the Year Princess Calla – over whom she had a 6kg advantage under the weight-for-age conditions – is likely to be aimed next at the Majorca Stakes on Met day.
Bass-Robinson said the big-hearted daughter of champion race mare Beach Beauty might then be given a short break before decamping to KwaZulu-Natal for the winter season there.
A total of three winners on Saturday saw the trainer consolidate herself in second place on the national trainer championship log, behind fellow Capetonian Justin Snaith and ahead of Joburg’s Mike de Kock.
She is feeling competitive about the championship. “Justin has a lot more horses than me, but I won’t be throwing in the towel anytime soon!”