PARIS, France (AFP) — “He is no longer a spring chicken but he has not lost his talent,” Michael Holding told AFP regarding Michael Stoute, the trainer who proved his close friend right on Saturday (June 4) by winning his sixth Epsom Derby.
Whilst Stoute raised his top hat to salute Desert Crown crossing the winning line, three cheers rang out for him as he became at 76 the oldest trainer to win the ‘blue riband’ of flat racing.
“It was wrong, it should have been for the horse,” joked Stoute.
“I appreciate it though. It has been a great afternoon.
“I am to be proud of that (oldest trainer to win the Derby at age 76), I’m proud of the horse.”
The cricket-mad Barbados-born trainer was a fitting victor on a day the race was named in memory of another titan of the turf, nine-time Derby winning jockey Lester Piggott, who died aged 86 last Sunday.
Extraordinarily, it had been 12 years since Stoute’s previous Derby winner Workforce, and he had just three runners in the race since then prior to Desert Crown’s success.
The best of those had been Carlton House, owned by Queen Elizabeth II, who went off favourite in 2011 and finished third.
The Queen had been unable to attend the Derby and watched an event which was part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations on television from Windsor Castle.
“It is very nice (winning the Derby on a jubilee year) but I’m sad I didn’t win it for her (The Queen) as I think we were unlucky with Carlton House,” said Stoute.
“That would have been the biggest thrill.”
Desert Crown may not have won in the style of Stoute’s first Derby winner, the ill-fated Shergar, who won the 1981 edition by a record 10 lengths, but the trainer has described the latter as a freak.
Holding says another feature of Stoute – they have been firm friends since the legendary West Indies pace bowler visited his stables in 1985 – is how modest he is.
Stoute has never been one to shout about his successes – “he is not a good communicator in public” says Holding – as when in 2018 he broke the record for winners at Royal Ascot which he held jointly with his late great rival Henry Cecil.
“Henry’s record was formidable because he accumulated them when Royal Ascot was a four-day meeting for most of his career, I have had more five-day weeks,” said Stoute.
Once again on Saturday it was left to others, like his long-serving assistant trainer James Savage, to sing the praises of a man who has been training for 50 years.
“This is my 23rd season with Sir Michael and it is my fourth Derby win there,” said Savage.
“It is a special place, Freemason Lodge (Stoute’s stables).
“He is an extremely loyal man and a very fair man and you know if there is a good horse around he will get the best out of it.
“There is a reason I’ve stayed there for so long. It is because I like working for a fair man and a very good trainer.”
Stoute, whose father was chief of the Barbados police, suffered a huge personal loss when his long time partner Coral died in 2020 – he said earlier this week he “thought of her every day.”
Holding, who has retired to the Cayman Islands and admits he misses more his daily visits to the stables than commentating on cricket, said it was not in the nature of the man to give up after such a heavy blow.
“Everybody is saying is he going to pack up?” said Holding.
“I said to myself ‘pack up and do what? Sit in the house and watch TV and read the paper’... that is not his style or life.
“He has put so much time and effort into training, he ain’t going to lose it [his talent] like that.”
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