The 10-times champion trainer Sir Michael Stoute admits Desert Crown has given his yard a “great lift” and insists that he is firmly in the reckoning to give him a sixth Cazoo Derby on Saturday 4th June – 41 years after he first won the Epsom Downs Classic with the mighty Shergar.
The son of Nathanial will attempt to follow in the hoofprints of the legendary 1981 winner and his Newmarket handler’s other Derby heroes – Shahrastani (1986), Kris Kin (2003), North Light (2004) and Workforce (2010) – as Stoute celebrates his 50th year as a trainer.
After making a winning debut at Nottingham in November on his sole start as a two year old, Desert Crown thrust to the top of the betting for the Cazoo Derby with a stylish success in the Group Two Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes at York earlier this month.
Following his latest success, 76 year old Stoute believes that his rising star, who like 2003 winner Kris Kin is owned by Saeed Suhail, would not have to “improve much” from his performance on the Knavesmire to end his 12 year wait for a sixth Derby victory.
Desert Crown is currently trading at 9-4 for next Saturday’s race with most bookmakers and Stoute said: “You couldn’t fault the Dante performance – he was very efficient. I certainly wasn’t confident (going to York) as we were only just ready to go to the races as he had a hold-up with a bruised foot.
“When he won at Nottingham, he won impressively which surprised us last year. So he obviously does a little more on the racecourse than he does here.
“He was a good looking horse with a good temperament, but we had to learn something about him on the racecourse and it was a positive.
“He had just one piece of work since the Dante. It was just a loosen-up really. He went six furlongs quite comfortably. He is workmanlike and not spectacular at home.
“He wouldn’t have to come on too much but it was a good performance that puts him in the reckoning. He did surprise me (at York). It was a solid performance in a good time.
“If you win the Dante you don’t have to improve much to win The Derby. He has still got to do it though. He is a nice athlete and has a lovely temperament.
“All good horses are important and it is nice to have them and it has given the yard a great lift.”
Ryan Moore, who was aboard Stoute’s latest Derby winner Workforce, will be required by Aidan O’Brien, which leaves the multiple Group One-winning trainer turning to the services of Richard Kingscote, who has partnered Desert Crown to victory on both his starts to date.
Despite Kingscote only having previously ridden in The Derby once before, both Stoute and Suhail have plenty of faith in the 35 year old rider being able to shine on the biggest stage of them all.
Stoute continued: “Richard came in, though I can’t remember who introduced him, and he started riding work twice a week and I gave him some rides and it has continued and expanded.
“He is a good rider and we like working with him. He is a talented rider who is very professional and very astute.
“He has ridden him plenty of work and won twice on him and he gets on well with him, so we will go down that route. The owner is happy to have him on and so am I, so we will go down that route.
“It doesn’t feel strange (that Ryan) is not on board as he has been doing it for years. He has been riding horses for Aidan in important races for a long time.
“That is his first port of call and he makes a big contribution here riding work and race riding when he can after Aidan’s commitments.”
While Shergar remains Stoute’s most famous Derby winner, one of his most abiding memories of the former Aga Khan-owned colt is not of his 10-length demolition job at Epsom Downs but of an incident on the gallops after his Classic win.
He said: “Shergar did it in the mornings and the afternoons, that’s for sure. Shahrastani was a very reliable work horse too.
“Shergar was a machine. (Sir) Henry (Cecil) did a better job with Frankel than I did with Shergar as I shouldn’t have run him in the St Leger.
“He was bombproof and had a wonderful temperament in addition to being a well-balanced medium sized athlete.
“He was never a problem, he would just spin around every now and again. You remember the famous story when he spun around and got rid of his rider.
“In those days you could do all your work in the winter. We used to go into Moulton and up the hill to Warren Place and on his own – that was the route he went.
“He stopped and was picking one of the hedges outside of Warren Place so he obviously wanted to go in there! We were very lucky there was no long term damage.”
Although Stoute is looking forward to trying to put another Cazoo Derby on his CV, it was through the exploits of two sprinters he admits helped put his name on the map during the early days of his training career, following his move from Barbados.
He said: “I hadn’t been to Britain before going to Pat Rohan’s. Fortunately it was August but that first winter was tough.
“The West Indies had been federated and the chief justice of the federated West Indies came and retired in Barbados and he was an Irishman.
“My father met him one evening and they got chatting and he said, ‘I’ve got a horse-mad son’ and he said I might be able to help.
“I was supposed to go to a job in Ireland which fell through and he, Sir Eric Hallinan, made the connection for me with Pat Rohan’s mother.
“I worked for Pat for three years and then I came to Newmarket I went to Doug Smith for two and a half years. I then went to Tom Jones where I had a year and a half.
“I rented Cadland Stables and I got 15 horses and in those days you had to have 12 to get a licence and it started from there.
“Alphadamus won the Stewards’ Cup in my second season (1973). Blue Cashmere won the Northumberland Sprint Trophy and the Ayr Gold Cup and the Trafalgar Handicap at Ascot the week after the Ayr Gold Cup. Those were the two that got me moving a bit.
“Thank God I hit the ground running, as you can get buried quickly.”
One person who will not be alongside Stoute next weekend is his former long-term partner Coral Pritchard-Gordon, who passed away in 2020.
Despite her absence, Stoute admits he will be thinking of her as he does on a daily basis.
He added: “Of course I do (think about her every day). I miss her greatly and she was a great contributor. Coral is greatly missed by many.”
While Stoute is keen not to tempt fate, he believes Desert Crown will be able to withstand the stern test of Epsom Downs on Derby Day despite only having two career starts under his belt.
He added: “He has only had two starts and is probably the most inexperienced horse I’ve taken to the race as they all had more than two.
“I would have liked to have two or even three two year old races and two this year. They are all different but this fellow has a very good mind and he is a very relaxed racehorse.
“He has done nothing wrong on the racecourse – in fact he has done very well. I’m not even thinking about winning it, let’s get the horse there. Let us hope as they say.”
The Jockey Club Press Release