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Picture: Gaynor Rupert and loved ones are all smiles after Saturday’s fairytale L’Ormarins King’s Plate result (Image: Wayne Marks) 

Turf Talk

Gaynor Rupert called the 2024 L’Ormarins King’s Plate meeting “the greatest day of my racing life” and Candice Bass-Robinson also said it was without doubt the greatest day of her training career.

Trippi colt Charles Dickens gave both Rupert and Bass-Robinson a first win of the country’s most prestigious Gr 1 weight for age mile, the L’Ormarins King’s Plate.

The other Gr 1 on the day the Cartier Paddock Stakes was also won by a Candice Bass-Robinson-trained Drakenstein Stud homebred, the Lancaster Bomber filly Beach Bomb. The tiny filly was coming off a win in the Gr 1 WSB Cape Fillies Guineas and on Saturday she downed the Equus Horse Of The Year Princess Calla.

Rupert also bred the winner of the Gr 2 Antonij Rupert Wine Premier Trophy over 1800m, the Justin Snaith-trained Twice Over gelding Mucho Dinero, while Bass-Robinson won the Gr 2 Cartier Sceptre Stakes over 1200m with the Avontuur Stud-bred Trippi filly October Morn.

Rupert’s Drakenstein Stud was built on the lower slopes of her family’s L’Ormarins Wine Estate twenty years ago and she has been sponsoring the Queen’s Plate/King’s Plate ever since.

The efforts of her and her team have turned the event from an ordinary race day into South Africa’s equivalent of Royal Ascot, with glamour on the stands and lawns accompanying the top class racing.

She has won the race as a breeder before, having bred the twice L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate winner Jet Dark, who like Charles Dickens is by Trippi and he now stands at Drakenstein.

Rupert said in the winner’s enclosure on Saturday she had not prepared a speech because, unlike last year when believing Charles Dickens would win, there had now been the possibility of defeat.

He was defeated by the Ricky Maingard-trained Al Muthana at odds of 1/3 last year and on Saturday started only joint favourite with the runner up See It Again at 14/10 the pair.

Gaynor drew on Charles Dickens’ writings to describe his horse namesake’s season to date … it had begun with “the spring of hope” and it had given the connections “the worst of times” (defeat in the WSB Green Point Stakes), but ulimately he had given them “the best of times.” (LKP victory).

Bass-Robinson said Saturday’s victory had been particularly sweet.

Referring to his defeat in his penultimate start in the Gr 2 WSB Green Point Stakes followed by him silencing the critics on Saturday, she said, “I’m very glad about that, because people write off horses way too quickly. One run where you say the horse is going to need the run and the horse wasn’t at his best and they just write him off … but it’s fine … one doesn’t need to say anything!”

She added, “He was at his best on Saturday and that was the whole object … that was his mission.”

Bass-Robinson, like all great trainers, was meticulous in addressing every detail ahead of this mission.

She brought in her oldest friend Belinda Haytread to school Charles Dickens in an effort to get rid of the hanging antic which had crept into his racing.

She pointed out, “Aldo only started riding him at the 400m in the Green Point, but it had just looked like he had been riding him a lot sooner because he had been hanging so badly…”

“So it certainly made Aldo’s job easier,” said Candice about the outstanding work Belinda had done with the horse.

Domeyer had arrived on course supremely confident.

His plan had initially been to “place” Charles Dickens, but he had told Belinda a few days before the race he was right back to his best and he accordingly told Candice he had changed his mind and was “going to trust him and ride him as though he was the old Charles”.

Even Piere Strydom on comfortable Green Point victor See It Again knew he was up against it this time.

Down at the start he commented to Aldo Domeyer on how well Charles looked.

Aldo managed to find a position in midfield one out with cover behind Al Muthana.

See It Again was handy on the rail and in the straight Strydom found himself in front after he had switched the Twice Over colt inward to pass the slowing pacemaker Speed Machine.

A lesser horse would have been a sitting duck down the long 600m straight, but Strydom knew See It Again as a twice Gr 1 winner over 2000m would stay all the way to the line.

Meanwhile, Charles Dickens crept up under the hands. Thanks to the work of Belinda Haytread there was no sign of any hanging. Domeyer was able to sit relatively still as his charge ran as straight as an arrow down the centre and he was clearly still hard on the bit.

At the 300m mark Aldo crouched down in the saddle and began driving the Trippi colt.

The response was instantaneous.

His unbelievable turn of foot has always been his chief weapon. In the past that acceleration of his had settled races within a matter of strides and on Saturday it soon became clear that the old Charles was back.

He swept to the front and left See It Again looking like he was going up and down on the inside.

Aldo just had to give the strongly built colt two backhanders as he powered to an impressive 2,75 length victory.

It was the superstar Trippi colt’s third Gr 1 victory and all three of them have been in prestigious mile races, the Hollywoodbets Cape Guineas, the wfa Hollywoodbets Gold Challenge and now the biggest one of them all, the wfa L’Ormarins King’s Plate.

High in the stands Gaynor Rupert shook her fists in triumph. One member of the Rupert entourage lost her headdress as she jumped up and down in what was obviously a joyous release of the tension which must have accompanied the build up to the race in the Rupert household.

The whole family was in attendance including Gaynor’s husband Johann, who has reportedly begun taking more of an interest in racing thanks to Charles Dickens.

Aldo revealed afterwards it had been a longheld ambition of his to win this race and he said he was going to enjoy every second of the victory for a long time.

Even Lord Robin Renwick, who presented the trophy on behalf of King Charles, commented on how happy Aldo was and how he had made his move in the race “at the perfect moment.”

Gaynor had difficulty keeping the emotion at bay in her victory speech and after dishing out accolades to the Bass-Robinson team and for a “fantastic ride”, she said she had always known Charles Dickens was “a great horse”.

She added, “Today he showed who he really is and he is the future of Drakenstein. Trippi, whom I love so much, and we’ve now got Charles.”

Candice said Charles had come out of the race well, but the connections had not yet discussed his immediate future and whether he would line up in the Gr 1 wfa WSB Met.