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Picture: 123RF/LUKAS GOJDA
Picture: 123RF/LUKAS GOJDA

If the ante-post market is correct, there are two horses — one in SA and one in the UK — who are shoo-ins for their respective big races in the two countries in the next four weeks.

In SA, three-year-old, Charles Dickens, is 3-10 to win the R1.5m Cape Derby at Kenilworth on February 25 and in the UK Constitution Hill is 4-11 to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on March 14.

Charles Dickens is being hailed as the new superstar in SA racing and is already the 7-2 favourite for the 2023 Durban July.

First there is the small matter of winning the Cape Derby and before racing at Kenilworth last Saturday trainer Candice Bass-Robinson sent her star colt to the track to work with two stable companions. “He [Charles Dickens] galloped over a mile under Aldo [Domeyer] and did what we asked of him and is in good shape,” she told the Sporting Post.

Asked what she thought of Justin Snaith having seven runners in the race, Bass-Robinson said: “If the Snaith horses weren’t there, we may not have had a race. But as long as my horse is in good shape, he is my priority and focus.”

The Snaith septet is headed by 5-1 second favourite, Rockpool, and he will go to post with stablemates Nevada King, Mucho Dinero, Triple Time, Cosmic Burst, Itsrainingwilliam and Without Question.

On merit ratings, Charles Dickens has a far higher figure (132) than any of his Cape Derby rivals. The next highest is Dean Kannemeyer’s entry, At My Command on 114.

The Racing Post in the UK reports that Constitution Hill, jumping’s newest superstar who threatens to illuminate the Cheltenham Festival in March, was again hailed on Monday morning by smitten trainer Nicky Henderson. He seemed to be warming to the mouthwatering prospect of the odds-on Unibet Champion Hurdle favourite running over fences in the future.

Owned by Henderson’s longtime pal Michael Buckley, Constitution Hill is 4-11 with Betfair to provide the yard with a record-extending ninth Champion Hurdle triumph in four weeks’ time.

Five flawless wins over hurdles have helped the six-year-old to reach that price and he could be set for a period of domination in the division, but Buckley, in an interview with the Racing Post, last week floated the idea of seeing him go chasing and perhaps trying to emulate Dawn Run, the only horse to win a Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Henderson, entertaining the media at his historic Seven Barrows base for a Cheltenham preview event, was asked if he could see the sport’s most exciting horse switching codes. “I could yeah, without a doubt. That will be a decision for the summer and I remember it was similar with Altior and I said to the Pughs they could win a Champion Hurdle but then it would be too late to go chasing,” he said.

“You could go chasing, you could go two and half miles and why wouldn’t he go three? I think he’d go as far as you’d like. We’ll see.”

Before then, Henderson will plot a path to the Champion Hurdle with the son of Blue Bresil, who has not raced since bolting up in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on December 26.

“He’s doing freakish things, but he’s only had five runs in his life,” the trainer added. “Normally when you come into a Champion Hurdle you’ve had 10 or 12 races, so it’s hard to gauge him except from the fact he’s done nothing wrong.

“He’s fine and everything has gone great. He worked on Saturday and he’s got a few more bits to do. We usually go to Kempton for an away day on the all-weather and I would like him to have a racecourse gallop somewhere.”

In second-favourite State Man, Constitution Hill has a “proper challenger”, according to Henderson, who is thrilled to be sharing such a special journey with Michael Buckley.

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