Charles Dickens plots his revenge

Charles Dickens plots his revenge

Graeme Hawkins

 This afternoon’s R1,75-million Hollywoodbets Gold Challenge (Gr 1) over 1600m at Hollywoodbets Greyville race course has attracted the very best “milers” in the country and a massive showdown between defending Champion, Al Muthana, and rising superstar, Charles Dickens, is expected at the City track.

The betting for the race suggests that the Gold Challenge is a one-horse affair – but the form book suggests something a little different. That Charles Dickens is quoted at 5/10 and Al Muthana is on offer at 8/1 makes no logical sense but such is the passion for, and belief in, Charles Dickens’ that his supporters do not wish to hear of defeat. However, the fact remains that Al Muthana was the first to lower Charles Dickens’ colours when he defeated the 3yo son of Trippi in the L’Ormarins King’s Plate (Gr 1) over 1600m at Hollywoodbets Kenilworth in January earlier this year.

And that was certainly no flash-in-the-pan performance by Al Muthana. He won last year’s Hollywoodbets Gold Challenge beating a high class field which included the mighty Jet Dark and multiple Grade 1 winner Linebacker. On the back of these two wins, Al Muthana can legitimately claim to be the King-of-the-Milers in the country right now but Charles Dickens will be out for revenge and to de-throne the Ricky Maingard-trained Australian-bred 5yo son of Deep Field. And both appear to be in top form coming into this afternoon’s race, which adds to the excitement and anticipation.

Al Muthana put up a scintillating trial when finishing third in the Independent On Saturday (IOS) Drill Hall Stakes over 1400m. He turned for home well out of his ground – along with Gimme A Prince – and the pair stormed home to get within a length of the 1400m specialist Trip of Fortune. Given that Trip of Fortune had won the Horse Chestnut Stakes (Gr 1) in his previous start, that was a superb effort by both Gimme A Prince and Al Muthana and we now all know that Gimme A Prince came out to win the Golden Horse Sprint (Gr 1) under top weight last weekend.

Al Muthana will strip a fit horse today, is very much the real deal, and is unlikely to give up his crown without a fight. But Charles Dickens also comes into the race off the back of an eye-catching performance in the World Sports Betting Guineas over 1600m. Run on the same afternoon as the IOS Drill Hall Stakes, Charles Dickens stormed to a comfortable and stylish victory in the WSB Guineas leaving subsequent Daily News winner See It Again trailing in his wake.

There was a neck separating the pair when Al Muthana won the L’Ormarins King’s Plate six months ago. A lot can change in six months and they now meet on a very different race track but each has proven that Hollywoodbets Greyville does not pose a problem for either.

Even the Handicappers can’t separate them – they are both rated 132 – jointly the highest-rated horses in the Country. Given all this evidence – you be the judge! Are you comfortable taking 5/10 Charles Dickens or does the 8/1 about Al Muthana look much more appealing? Perhaps 9/10 a place Al Muthana seems an even more judicious investment?

The only other runner with any serious claims is Charles Dickens’ stable companion Trip of Fortune, who is in the form of his life. As mentioned, he has won the Horse Chestnut Stakes (Gr 1) and the IOS Drill Hall Stakes (Gr 2) in his last couple of outings, confirming the promise that saw the Candice Bass-Robinson charge start favourite for the Cape Guineas as a 3yo.

Trip of Fortune is at his best brilliant best over 1400m – a distance over which he remains unbeaten in five starts – but there can be no doubt that his brilliance stretches to 1600m. Representing the same connections as Charles Dickens, Gaynor Ruperts’ Drakenstein Stud, Trip of Fortune is very much in the hunt for top honours this afternoon.

Whatever the outcome, we should be in for a memorable renewal of the Hollywoodbets Gold Challenge as Charles Dickens plots his revenge against Al Muthana in an attempt to secure the Equus Award for Champion Miler.


Rockpool has jetted into town in a last ditch attempt to qualify for the R5-million Hollywoodbets Durban July (HDJ) when he lines up against ten rivals in the Hollywoodbets Dolphins Cup Trial (Gr 3) over 1800m in Race 5 this afternoon. Rockpool reeled off a hat-trick of wins between November and January culminating in an impressive win in the Politician Stakes (Gr 3) over 1800m at Kenilworth, when beating stable companion Without Question. The latter turned that form around in the SplashOut Cape Derby (Gr 1) when Rockpool could only finish a distant fifth.

Rockpool was then gelded and made his re-appearance when storming home from last to finish a close third behind Itsrainingwilliam three weeks ago. He can only improve with the benefit of that run but he probably needs to win the Cup Trial in some style to have a chance of making the cut for the HDJ.

He is not alone in making a final bid to get into the July field. Mike de Kock’s two runners Union Square and Shoemaker are in the same boat as well as all of Litigation, Cape Eagle, Winchester Mansion and Quasiforsure. With so much at stake, the Cup Trial shapes up to a very competitive affair but perhaps Rockpool, who will be partnered by red-hot Richard Fourie, has the most scope for improvement and the son of Futura appears well weighted on 56,5 kgs.

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