‘He’s Just Bombproof’: View From the Stoute Stable as Desert Crown Nears Return

In the modern era, only Aidan O’Brien has trained more Derby winners than Sir Michael Stoute. The latter became almost instantly synonymous with the great race, and indeed woven into Derby folklore, when he first won it back in 1981. Few will need reminding that that was with Shergar (Ire), the horse whose infamy threatens to overshadow his brilliance, especially as the years wear on and the number of people who were there to witness Shergar’s superiority first hand decreases.

Forty-one years later, and with the not insignificant names of Shahrastani, Kris Kin, North Light (Ire), and Workforce (GB) creating stepping stones to bridge that gap, Stoute was back at Epsom with Desert Crown (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}). The colt’s rise to the Classic roll of honour had been swift: November maiden victory as a juvenile, straight to the G2 Dante S. six months later, thence to the Derby itself. Few trainers would be so assured in their assessment of the nascent ability of a young colt to have taken such a bold path, but then few have the legion of experience accrued by Stoute in his half century with a training licence. 

Fifty not out: the cricket-mad trainer would probably approve of that statistic, and Desert Crown became his sixth Derby winner 50 years and 37 days after Stoute had saddled his first ever winner (at Newmarket). But his remarkable innings is not defined solely by success at Epsom, where he has also sent out the Oaks winners Fair Salinia (GB) and Unite (Ire), as well as five winners of the Coronation Cup, including the brilliant Singspiel (Ire), a forerunner of the globetrotting superstars that are more commonplace these days.

While later-maturing, classy middle-distance horses have long been a hallmark of the Stoute stable, so has the longevity of the key personnel involved at his Freemason Lodge yard. Stoute’s two most recent assistant trainers, Owen Burrows and James Horton, are now training in their own right, and into the latter’s shoes has stepped James Savage, but not before a lengthy stint which has incorporated almost every role therein.

“I was apprenticed to Mark Tompkins and Jeremy Noseda and I just could tell I wasn’t a very good jockey,” says Savage, who joined Stoute in 1999 and whose no-nonsense modesty is typified in this one statement. “I just thought, if I’m not going to be a jockey, then I want to go somewhere that I can build a career and work through the ranks.

“I was a stable lad here for many years, a work rider, then second head lad, learning from some really good experienced people. And then the travelling job came up and I went to so many places all over the world. When my daughter was two, the head lad option came up at [Stoute’s former second yard] Beech Hurst. Then when James Horton moved on to train for John Dance the assistant trainer’s job became available.”

He adds, “The boss likes to promote from within, I think as much to reward loyalty, and there was no change to anything when I became assistant because I’ve been here for so long, and if I don’t know how the yard runs now, then I’ve been walking around with my eyes shut. So it was natural progression really.”

Going from a maiden to the Dante to the Derby is a very hard thing to do, but we were never concerned because he had the mentality to deal with it

Loyalty is a word which Savage returns to regularly when speaking about the man known as “the boss”. It can be equally applied to Desert Crown’s owner Saeed Suhail, a longstanding patron of the stable, but with good reason. Desert Crown was Suhail’s second Derby winner after Kris Kin. He also owned King’s Best, one of five 2,000 Guineas winners trained by Stoute, the top sprinter Dream Of Dreams (Ire), and dual Group 1 winner Poet’s Word (Ire) among a significant list of Pattern winners. All connected with the Stoute stable are now hoping that the luck can hold for Suhail as the bid to return Desert Crown to the races increases in tempo. So how is he?

“Our head girl, Sarah Denniff, who manages Desert Crown really well, commented the other day about how he’s developed through his back and strengthened up,” says Savage. “He’s really developing behind the saddle where he was just a little weak last year. Going from a maiden to the Dante to the Derby is a very hard thing to do, but we were never concerned because he had the mentality to deal with it.”

He continues, “He’s just bombproof. You go to the Derby and the first thing you think of is, ‘How’s the horse going to handle it?’ We’ve been to a few now and some of them have taken it really well and some of them have just looked a bit edgy. You just knew he was going to go there and be professional.”

A minor foot injury in July meant that the Derby was the last we saw of Desert Crown, but he is back cantering in Newmarket after recuperating nearby at Sheikh Mohammed’s Dalham Hall Stud.

“He was extremely well managed up at Dalham Hall during his rehab,” notes Savage. “It was as beneficial for his mind as it was for him physically. It’s a long time to be just on a horse-walker or hand-led in a yard where horses are being trained and everything’s happening, buzzing along. There, he had turnout, hand-walking and just a change of scenery really.

“Because of the time he had off, the build-up to his work has been in a slower manner than for a horse that’s just had six weeks downtime from a season. It’s been long and slow, but we’re at half-speed work now, and he’s in good condition.

“You can’t make too many plans. You have to take it race by race, but the boss likes to start a horse like that at Sandown. The Gordon Richards will come too soon, but the Brigadier Gerard is an option and would tell us where we are after his first race.”

Stoute does indeed like Sandown as a starting point, and it was in that Group 3 contest last year that many of us first woke up to the abundant talent of Bay Bridge (GB) (New Bay {GB}), who later in the year gilded the season for his trainer when beating Adayar (Ire) and Baaeed (GB) in the G1 QIPCO Champion S. Now five, he, too, remains in training for his breeder James Wigan and Ballylinch Stud.

“Everything is a hundred per cent, so we’ve just got to mind him,” Savage reports. “We went into the Champion Stakes quietly thinking we could beat Baaeed. We knew that Bay Bridge could be ridden positively and take the race to him early to really try and draw it out of him. Baaeed was the best turf horse in the world last year, and rightly so, but we were confident that day that we had Bay Bridge absolutely spot on.”

He adds, “We could probably look at something like the Gordon Richards at Sandown on April 28 to get him going. Unfortunately he would have a seven-pound penalty, so the boss is just thinking carefully.”

The stable is also home to Bay Bridge’s three-year old half-sister by Territories (Ire), named Stormy Sea (GB), with a juvenile colt, Lucky Hour (GB) (Time Test {GB}), on the way in. Their dam Hayonna (GB) (Multiplex {GB}) foaled a full-brother to Bay Bridge on February 5.

Nostrum is a huge horse and he surprised us how he was handling his work early on

Desert Crown and Bay Bridge will naturally be at the forefront of the stable’s older-horse division, along with Cheveley Park Stud’s five-year-old mare Potapova (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}), who Savage says is “training really well.” Among the Classic generation, Juddmonte’s Nostrum (GB) (Kingman {GB}), must come in for strong consideration following his win in the G3 Somerville Tattersall S. and subsequent third, 16 days later, in the G1 Dewhurst behind another exciting Juddmonte colt, Chaldean (GB) (Frankel {GB}).

“He’s a huge horse and he surprised us how he was handling his work early on,” says Savage of Nostrum. “He found it all very easy so we pressed on a bit more and he was fairly impressive first time out at Sandown. Like the two horses we were just talking about, he’s got this bombproof mentality; nothing stresses him.

“We wanted to go to Doncaster, which would have given us a longer gap to the Dewhurst, but we just weren’t completely happy with his scope so we were forced to go to Newmarket, which left the gap between the two races quite short. We were very happy with the run in the Dewhurst and I think it’ll work out to be a very good race because I think the winner’s very smart. But we’ve got a nice, clean run now and we’ll see where we go. He’s training well.”

While Nostrum, who made his debut in July, was an earlier sort than Desert Crown, Savage says that Stoute remains resolute in not wishing to test his youngsters before they are ready, despite the increasing clamour in racing generally for early success.

“That’s not something that we feel any pressure to do,” he says. “Generally the horses we get sent by our owners are horses that are not precocious anyway. You get the odd one, and we do try if they’ve got a precocious pedigree to get them there, but we certainly don’t ask them to run before they can walk as such. 

James Savage and Infinite Cosmos

“Our two-year olds are now just starting to do a little bit more work, say two [canters] on Warren Hill at the weekend, and some of them might just have to back off and some of them might go forward, but they’ll tell you.”

In the case of Desert Crown, Ryan Moore had as much of a say in regard to his debut as the horse himself.

“Ryan rode him work and there was one turf meeting left at Nottingham, and I remember saying we could get him out at Kempton,” Savage recalls. “Ryan said, ‘Run this horse on the turf.’ I remember thinking it would be fairly soft but we ran him, he went to the front and he was running green, so Richard [Kingscote] just had to keep him straight and concentrating, but he went again on that ground.”

With Moore, Kingscote, and jockey-turned-bloodstock agent Ted Durcan all riding work regularly for Stoute, he does not lack good feedback.

“They’re such a valuable part of the team,” Savage says. “We try and get the boys on everything in the spring, and Ryan will come in every day when he’s available, Ted’s here most days, and we try and switch all their rides so we get a bit of feedback on more or less everything in the yard before we step up the fast work. But their opinions are very valuable, especially with the two-year olds when you’re trying to get somewhere, to back off or go forward, maybe run here, not there.”

While Savage’s time with Stoute has spanned four of the six Derby winners, he has also looked after two Derby place-getters, Tartan Bearer (Ire) and Golan (Ire). Both were homebreds for the much-missed Ballymacoll Stud. Golan also won the 2,000 Guineas and returned at four to land the G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S.

“When you think of Ballymacoll, it makes you realise how many owner-breeders unfortunately aren’t with us any more. Even smaller breeders like John Greetham, such great horses they gave us over the years,” he says.

Another owner-breeder who will be sorely missing from Stoute’s list is Sir Eveleyn de Rothschild, who died last November at at the age of 91. His Southcourt Stud bloodlines, which have been seen to great effect for Freemason Lodge through such top-class horses as Crystal Ocean (GB) and Notnowcato (GB), live on at the stable through two fillies, Crystal Caprice (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) and Infinite Cosmos (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}), who were held back from last year’s partial dispersal by Sir Evelyn’s sons.

The three-year-old Infinite Cosmos has raced just once, when beaten a short-head at Doncaster last October, but she is clearly one who is putting a spring in Savage’s step each morning. “I’m very excited about her,” he says, giving away rather more than the boss might be inclined to do. “I think she could be quite special and make up into a stakes horse.”

Having had Golan in his care at the start of his tenure as a stable lad, Savage is enjoying the prospect of Nostrum’s season ahead in his far more senior position.

“It’s very exciting having a Guineas horse in the yard,” he says. “And obviously getting Desert Crown and Bay Bridge back on the track and making plans for them is also very exciting. It’s nice on a Tuesday looking at the early-closing entries and picking out Group 1s in France and Ireland and so on.”

And along with those equine legends over two decades and counting, what has it been like working for a trainer who can certainly be put in the legendary bracket?

Savage thinks carefully about his reply. It is clearly not that he is agonising over saying what might be seen as ‘the right thing’, rather that he wants to be sure that he is doing Stoute justice from his almost unique view of the stable’s inner workings.

“Words are used quite loosely, but he’s a bit of a genius really when it comes to training racehorses, isn’t he? A horse might go around the round gallop once as a two-year-old and he can see something that will probably come to fruition in 12 months’ time. He visualises the development and where a horse could end up,” he says.

“I always thought it would be a good job as a jockey to ride for him, as good a job as it is for me to be his assistant because he doesn’t tie you down to things. You do what you think he wants you to do and you’re always rewarded with back-up and loyalty. He’s an incredibly easy person to work for, and I would think the jockeys would probably say the same thing, too.”

Savage adds, “He has his way of letting horses do things naturally; mature naturally. Hence his success for all these years. He’s very patient, with horses and people. He’s still as hungry as ever and I think getting so many nice two-year-olds this year from owners that have been longstanding and loyal is very positive.”

The post ‘He’s Just Bombproof’: View From the Stoute Stable as Desert Crown Nears Return appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.