HORSE POWER: Racing will rejoice if Sir Michael Stoute can drive Passenger to glory… the 78-year-old Grand Master has lost none of his instinct or ability

Early days they might be but the sight and the numbers still jar: with the Flat season roaring into life, occupying 53rd place in the Trainers Championship is Sir Michael Stoute.

So far, there have been just three winners and £143,797.10 in prize money accumulated. There won’t be any attempt to add to the 10 titles he had won – Stoute made it clear to this observer, five years ago, that had ceased to be an ambition long ago – but, even still, 53rd place doesn’t seem right.

Stoute, you see, is a character who enlivens the game. Racing isn’t pockmarked by tribalism, so if he has a good horse in his care there is universal support for it to flourish and win on the biggest days; this man has sculpted countless works of equine art and given fans, whatever their age, timeless joy.

Take a minute to think of them. Shergar coming up Epsom’s straight like a runaway train in the 1981 Derby; Estimate, leaving the late Queen in raptures, in the 2013 Ascot Gold Cup; Harbinger winning the 2011 King George by the kind of distance (11 lengths) you’d associate with a novice chase.

If Stoute wasn’t a trainer, you’d want him to manage your pension because his ability to keep make gains, year on year, is incredible. It’s a cliche that he gets horses to improve with age but it’s true – he’s 78 now but this Grand Master has lost none of his instinct or ability.

Sir Michael Stoute's Passenger ridden by Richard Kingscote (left) wins at Chester last Friday

Sir Michael Stoute’s Passenger ridden by Richard Kingscote (left) wins at Chester last Friday 

All this made the display of Passenger at Chester last Friday feel significant. Stoute has often used the Group Two Huxley Stakes, a competitive event for horses aged four and above over a mile-and-a-quarter, to launch the campaigns of talented animals and he’d won it seven times since 1999.

The difference this time was the desire on the racecourse, and beyond, for Passenger to make it eight. Yes, the betting market suggested it was a 50/50 call between him and Israr, who is trained by John and Thady Gosden, but the roar that erupted three furlongs out told its own story.

When Richard Kingscote, his jockey, found an angle to exploit, the response was instantaneous. Passenger had a gear change like the motorbikes Kingscote loves riding and broke the course record as he scooted clear. Everyone on track agreed they had witnessed something special.

Passenger is lightly-raced but has bags of talent and he will certainly go to Royal Ascot. Here, then, is the hope – the tantalising possibility that Stoute has an animal to keep him in the limelight, a horse that the public will latch on to and take into their affections.

Everyone will want Passenger to flourish. Stoute has had to deal with some savage blows in the last three years. The loss of his beloved partner, Coral Pritchard-Gordon, in 2021 remains keenly felt and there is a hole in his life that will never be filled.

She was his rock, an elegant lady who would look after The Queen when the Monarch came to Newmarket to watch her horses work. When Stoute trained Desert Crown to win the Derby 12 months later, he was quick to acknowledge the lift that had provided.

Desert Crown looked like he had it all but, lamentably, he was fragile. He only raced once more after scampering around Epsom and his career was ended last summer after he suffered a serious injury on the gallops. Complications in his recovery meant the colt lost his life.

The 78-year-old won the Gold Cup for the late Queen Elizabeth II with her horse Estimate

The 78-year-old won the Gold Cup for the late Queen Elizabeth II with her horse Estimate

You will see why, then, the emergence of Passenger is so poignant. Stoute has been training since 1972, a fixture on Newmarket’s fabled Bury Road, and just listing the races he has won around the world in the ensuing 52 years would fill this page and beyond.

His durability has been astonishing, his ability to get inside the mind of a horse second to none. He’s been a fixture in racing for a lifetime and the idea that he one day won’t be represented at the big meetings would take some accepting.

But that day can wait. Stoute hasn’t got lots of numbers in Freemason Lodge anymore but he’s got Passenger and he also runs a high-class filly at York on Thursday called Infinite Cosmos, who was being spoken about as a potential Oaks winner 12 months ago.

Provided all goes to plan, they will have the ability to thrust Stoute up the table once again. And you can be sure they will be swept long on a wave of public goodwill.

Chester is one of the best places in the world to watch racing. The oldest track in the business (first race 1539) and the place where the phrases ‘The Gee Gees’ was coined (traced back to the Mayor Henry Gee, who was Mayor that year) the atmosphere is unique.

The sense of mourning, though, was inescapable last Wednesday when Godolphin’s beautiful colt Hidden Law took a wrong step after he had just dazzled in the Chester Vase and sustained an injury that was so bad, he could not be saved.

Perhaps it was the proximity of where the incident happened, just in front of the stands, that made things feel so raw. Hidden Law, arguably, had produced the best display of the season so far and you felt sure as he whizzed through that final furlong you were looking at a Derby winner-in-waiting.

Chester is one of the best places in the world to watch racing - the oldest track in the business

Chester is one of the best places in the world to watch racing – the oldest track in the business

Hidden Law had it all – looks, speed, balance and power – and the devastation felt by all those connected to him, not least his trainer Charlie Appleby, was immense. Appleby, it must be noted, handled an awful situation impeccably. He is a class act.

The loss was also felt by officials at the racecourse, headed by impressive Chief Executive Louise Stewart, who were absolutely devastated. Hidden Law’s loss was profound and we can only dream of what could have been. Maybe in future Chester will think about naming a race in his honour.

Not content with dominating jumps races on both sides of the Irish Sea, does Willie Mullins now have his eye on winning Classic contests on the flat?

At Leopardstown on Sunday, a three-year-old filly called Lope De Lilas – who Mullins trains for his wife, Jackie – went into plenty of notebooks for the resounding way she won a mile-and-a-quarter maiden. She has an entry in the Irish Oaks on July 20. You have been told.

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