Cazoo Derby (Group 1)
SIR Michael Stoute has enjoyed a storied career since first granted a licence to train 50 years ago and reminded the racing world that he wasn’t ready for the pipe and carpet slippers just yet as he saddled Desert Crown (Richard Kingscote) to land the 243rd Derby Stakes - run in memory of Lester Piggott - at Epsom.
Winner of the Dante at York on just his second career start, Desert Crown carried a lot of confidence from his trainer into the Derby and delivered a decisive turn of foot to put the race beyond doubt immediately after hitting the front well before the two-furlong marker.
For a second, it looked like the 5/2 favourite might go on to post a Shergar-like margin given how decisive his initial burst was, but after going four lengths clear with over a furlong left, he was allowed to coast.
Kingscote was able to ease off in the final strides, eventually winning by two and a half lengths from 150/1 outsider Hoo Ya Mal (Andrew Balding/David Probert), with the luckless Westover (Ralph Beckett/Rob Hornby) a head behind in third having been stopped twice in his run up the straight.
This was a sixth Derby win for Stoute (and his second for owner Saeed Suhail after Kris Kin), who gained his first and most memorable win in the race with the great Shergar in 1981.
For Richard Kingscote it was a first British classic win on just his second Derby ride, and full justification of his move to link up with Sir Michael after spending many years riding for Tom Dascombe at Michael Owen’s purpose-built training centre.
Desert Crown was settled in mid-division in the initial climb, and Kingscote soon had him in the perfect position – tracking the leaders and with a clear path – as Aidan O’Brien’s trio, Changingoftheguard, Star Of India and Stone Age ensured a strong pace on the run to Tattenham Corner.
It was clear before the runners crossed the path shortly after the turn that Desert Crown was travelling best, and any remaining doubt as to who would win was quickly extinguished as the winning rider allowed his mount to coast up to the toiling leaders before pressing the button.
The proximity of the runner-up makes it difficult to suggest that Desert Crown is an outstanding Derby winner, but he has made a big impression in a short career to date and would be at least as effective back at a mile and a quarter on this showing, for all he might have won even more comfortably if delivered later.
That is not to besmirch Richard Kingscote, whose job isn’t to win by the widest margin, but merely to win, and he was rightly confident his mount would see it out when sweeping to the front.
It’s not easy to make excuses for the O’Brien contingent, although it could be argued that Changingoftheguard ended up setting a pace which was slightly too strong. In different circumstances, both he and Stone Age would have been closer, but neither was unlucky to be out of the places, and both have a little to prove as a result.
Westover is clearly the most interesting of the beaten horses, and he twice went for gaps which closed in front of him when travelling powerfully. He lacks the acceleration of the winner, but would be suited by the Irish Derby, and that is where trainer Ralph Beckett intends to aim him.
Kingscote was full of praise for Desert Crown, who gave him the smoothest of rides on a momentous day for the jockey: “He was very good today, very smooth and for a horse that has only run twice, he was very professional. He took all the prelims beautifully and I was really pleased with him. Every time I have sat on him, he’s been very calm and today was no exception. I couldn’t fault him; he went to the start and then fireworks went off and he was a lovely ride.
“He does have a hood in the stalls, but he was out really well. Sir Michael was keen for me to try to take a reasonable pitch. I was hung out a little wide once we crossed over, took a little time and it wasn’t until the seven I was able to slide one off the fence and from there he was very comfortable. He came down the hill really well balanced and changed leads over the road and off he went to top gear.
“He was probably getting there a little soon, but it meant I was able to pull him up. The others just weren’t able to take him along – it just shows he has a good deal about him.”
Kingscote had to deal with the disappointment of being jocked off a fancied horse in a classic when losing the ride on Dascombe’s Brown Panther in the 2011 St Leger to Kieren Fallon, and speaking of the privilege he felt to be riding the Derby favourite, added: “I think it took a lot of guts from Sir Michael and the owner to stick with me in a Derby, so I’m very grateful to them for supporting me and letting me ride a very good horse. I’m not a champion jockey, I’m not Ryan Moore – I guess I’ve had a good career, but I’ve not had a starlet career. I think it takes a lot of support for them not to look elsewhere.
“In the last two years, being supported by the likes of Sir Michael, gives you confidence as a rider and I think it’s done me good.”
Sir Michael has been unusually bullish about Desert Crown in the lead up to the Derby, and he was clearly delighted to see his faith justified, telling Racing TV’s Lydia Hislop: “I was very comfortable by the time they came to the top of the hill. He came very smoothly down the hill, and he’s got a lot of talent. He’s got a good mind, and is very calm, which is very important.”
“I’ve been impressed by Richard since he arrived here and was confident he could do the job today. He’s a deep thinker, he has beautiful hands and he’s calm.”
Asked about the possibility of coming back to shorter after this win, the Freemason Lodge trainer added: “He was very impressive in the Dante, and has good speed on the dam side, so he’ll have no problem with 10 furlongs. He’s not spectacular at home, but I knew we’d got him fitter since the Dante.”
Stoute’s last Derby winner was Workforce in 2010, and he reflected on the barren spell: “You obviously realise that your chances lessen with time, but I was never paranoid about it. I was just hoping that one would come along, and it did.”