Thirty-six years after his first success in the Dante Stakes with Shahrastani, Sir Michael Stoute was back on track in more ways than one at York on Thursday as Desert Crown, a big gamble for the Derby in recent weeks, quickened clear of seven opponents in Britain’s last major trial and took over as the new favourite for the Classic on 4 June.
Stoute was Britain’s champion trainer 10 times between 1981 and 2009 and has five Derby winner’s trophies on his mantlepiece at Freemason Lodge, the most recent from Workforce’s Epsom victory in 2010 after he had finished second in the Dante.
His once pre-eminent stable has not had so much as a runner in the Derby since 2016, however, and only two starters in the premier Classic since Carlton House, the favourite, narrowly missed out behind Pour Moi in 2011.
Stoute’s appearances on the racecourse have also become increasingly rare in recent months but he was on the Knavesmire to see Desert Crown cut through the field from two furlongs out and then extend his lead over Royal Patronage to three-and-a-quarter lengths at the line, despite drifting right in the closing stages.
Desert Crown is open to any amount of improvement after what was only the second start of his career, and this victory was enough to see him end Stone Age’s four-day reign as Derby favourite after his wide-margin win at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Stoute’s colt is now top-priced at 9-4 (from 7-1) for Epsom with Stone Age out to 100-30. Changingoftheguard, O’Brien’s Chester Vase winner, at 9-1 is the only other runner at single-figure odds.
“It’s only his second race, he’s travelled well and he’s accelerated pleasingly,” Stoute said afterwards. “You have to be very happy with that performance.
“I thought it was a strong Dante, but I wasn’t confident because I felt we’d only just got him up to a race having had a minor setback late February. We didn’t rush him, we took our time and he was only just ready to run now.”
Richard Kingscote, Desert Crown’s jockey, has had just one previous ride in the Derby, finishing 11th of 12 on the 14-1 shot Knight To Behold in 2018, but can now look forward to riding the favourite in three weeks’ time.
Kingscote is effectively No.2 behind Ryan Moore at the Stoute stable, but Moore’s first commitment to ride for Aidan O’Brien – who had the third-home Bluegrass on Thursday – is likely to see him riding Stone Age at Epsom.
“Of course, Ryan’s horse in Ireland [Stone Age] was very impressive and going to a Derby is always going to be difficult,” Kingscote said. “He’s done well from two to three, I was taken with how well he’s filled out and they’ve done a great job with him.
“I’m in a very privileged position to be able to work under Sir Michael and Ryan, I’ve been lucky Ryan had one in the race today and people were nice enough to let me on. Fortunately I delivered on that.”
Evergreen Stradivarius too short for Yorkshire Cup
Many owners might have been tempted to send Stradivarius off to stud at the end of 2018, when his big-race wins included the Ascot Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup. If so, his first crop of two-year-olds would have been stepping on to the track this spring.
Instead, the grand old horse himself is still going strong and about to start his seventh season on the racecourse in Friday’s Yorkshire Cup.
Cavalryman, in 2014, is the only eight-year-old “entire” horse to win at Group Two level in Britain in the last 20 years, and John Gosden, Stradivarius’s trainer, said this week that he is “certainly not giving him hard, hard works at home, he’s too old for that”.
Gosden added: “I don’t want everyone there thinking he’s going to necessarily go and win another Yorkshire Cup, I’d just like to see him run a race that acts as a platform going forward.”
On that basis, Stradivarius looks too short for Friday’s race at 4-5 and Dermot Weld’s gritty mare Search For A Song (3.35) is the obvious one to bet against him at around 5-1. The six-year-old has Group One-winning form in the 2020 Irish St Leger, has the benefit of a run behind her already this year and gets a handy 6lb from the favourite.
York 1.50: An astonishing 13 of these juveniles – in a 16-strong field – were winners last time out so the biggest improver is likely to land the spoils. Fix You is a tentative pick having put up a fair performance on the clock when going clear on debut at Thirsk last month.
Newbury 2.05: Puerto De Vega was much improved on the all-weather over the winter and will go close if transferring that form back to the turf.
York 2.25: John Gosden’s Grande Dame won despite very obvious greenness at Ascot last month and should take this step up in class in her stride.
York 3.00: A couple of fancied runners have a stamina question to answer so Belloccio could be a fair bet at around 6-1 to follow up a career-best at Kempton last month.
York 4.10: A strong hand here for Charlie Appleby, with Yibir’s brother Wild Crusade a marginal pick over the unbeaten New Comedy after his ready win on handicap debut at Kempton last month.