Billed as a clash between the two-time champ and the unbeaten three-year-old, the inevitable happened in Saturday’s main Breeders’ Cup Challenge event in South Africa – neither won.
As the sophomore Charles Dickens asserted himself toward the far rail in the about one-mile King’s Plate (G1), and with Jet Dark striving to catch up and take the race for a third time, the unfancied 80-1 outsider Al Muthana was rallying strongly against Kenilworth’s stand rail.
Despite their best efforts, it was Al Muthana who got to the line first, a neck ahead of Charles Dickens, thereby earning a place in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) in November should his connections wish to take it up.
Bred in Australia by Shadwell Farm, Al Muthana was originally raced by his breeders before being sold recently to a new syndicate and moved to the stable of Ricky Maingard, recently returned by Mauritius. He is by the top Australian sire Deep Field out of the Group 2-winning Redoute’s Choice mare El Daana.
Al Muthana has shown his class before, winning the Greyville Gold Challenge (G1) and the Hawaii (G2), but he wasn’t always consistent and put in a shocker at his start before the King’s Plate.
Charles Dickens, who started a 2-9 favorite and billed as one of South Africa’s most exciting horses in years after winning all his previous six starts, had his bubble burst slightly but still ran an excellent race in his first clash with older horses. Jet Dark finished third, ahead of old rival Kommetdieding.
The King’s Plate – renamed from the Queen’s Plate following the death of Queen Elizabeth II – was one of two Breeders’ Cup Challenge events at Kenilworth. The other, the about 1 1/8-mile Paddock S. (G1) for fillies and mares – a qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1), also saw a dominant favorite toppled.
Last year’s winner, South African Horse of the Year Captain’s Ransom, was favored to win again and she put up her usual bold race. But at a distance perhaps slightly longer than her best, she couldn’t catch the bold front-running three-year-old filly Make It Snappy.
The 17th Group 1 winner by Dynasty, a son of the outstanding South African sire Fort Wood, Make It Snappy is out of Icy Winter Air, a daughter of the Group 1-winning filly Icy Air.
Although both prizes offer tickets to the Breeders’ Cup, South African horses face extra obstacles in trying to ship internationally. Last year Justin Snaith, trainer of Jet Dark and Captain’s Ransom, said the requirement for a 60-day quarantine along with other medical requirements made it too difficult and risky to send a horse to the Breeders’ Cup.
Whether the connections of Al Muthana and Make It Snappy decide to take that chance is yet to be determined.