SIR MICHAEL Stoute’s pride – and relief – was plain to see when Poet’s Word surged clear at Royal Ascot last month to secure a record-breaking win for the trainer.
Stoute’s 76th success at Flat racing’s signature meeting, it saw him finally eclipse the record that had been held by the late Sir Henry Cecil, his great friend and rival.
After a fallow period by his own high standards, Stoute was back in the big time after Poet’s Word beat hot favourite Cracksman in the Group One Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the Royal fixture’s premier 10-furlong race.
Now the 72-year-old returns to Ascot today in the hope of securing a record sixth win in the Qipco-sponsored King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Flat racing’s midsummer highlight.
The joint record holder alongside the late Dick Hern and Saeed bin Suroor who does not have a runner, Stoute is double-handed with Poet’s Word joined by stablemate Crystal Ocean, who also confirmed the trainer’s resurgence when winning the Hardwicke Stakes on Royal Ascot’s concluding day.
And there’s another fascinating sub-plot as two of Stoute’s stable stars go into battle. With Crystal Ocean’s regular rider Ryan Moore required to partner Aidan O’Brien’s Hydrangea, Derby-winning jockey William Buick takes over in the saddle and lines up against his best friend James Doyle who is aboard Poet’s Word.
Given both riders are retained by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation, it’s testament to their respective big race successes this summer – both are in the form of their lives – that they’ve been booked by a trainer of Stoute’s stature and repute.
After all, this is a man whose first King George triumph came as long ago as 1981 when the runaway Derby winner Shergar completed the big race double. Further successes came courtesy of Opera House (1993), Golan (2002), Conduit (2009) and Harbinger (2010).
“Excitement may not be the right word – I just want to get them both to Ascot in one piece. I am looking forward to the race,” said the normally reticent Stoute as he contemplated the big race.
“It is a very high level race and is always competitive. My horses have decent form and are first and second favourite. They may not finish first and second, but they are entitled to be in there. Both horses seem in good shape and their preparations have gone well.
It is a very high level race and is always competitive. My horses have decent form and are first and second favourite. They may not finish first and second, but they are entitled to be in there.Sir Michael Stoute
“They have separate owners and it’s a logical race for both of them mid-season. The official handicapper has 1lb between them, so there’s not a lot between them and we don’t work them together at home. They’re very easy and straightforward horses. There’s nothing complex about either colt.
“Crystal Ocean has won all three of his starts this year and he has won over the course and distance at Ascot (Hardwicke Stakes). The ground may be fast, but he is actually impervious to ground. He comes from a very good Rothschild family and they seem to improve with age – good honest horses.
“The win of Poet’s Word in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot would have been his best performance to date. He has been recording high levels of form and seems versatile in terms of distance – 10 or 12 furlongs. He has won at the track too and his preparation has gone well.”
That win in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes saw Poet’s Word lower the colours of John Gosden’s middle distance champion Cracksman, who will only reoppose today if there’s significant rain at Ascot.
Yet, while today’s contest does not appear to be as star-studded as some previous renewals after the aforementioned O’Brien withdrew Kew Gardens who was going for a big race treble after landing the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and then the Grand Prix de Paris at ParisLongchamp, it, nevertheless, takes a special horse to win this supreme mile-and-a-half test.
“Shergar gave us an anxious moment as he was short of room on the turn for home, but he still won impressively,” reflected Stoute, whose many Ascot triumphs include the 2013 Gold Cup when the Queen’s Estimate won a race for the ages.
“Harbinger ran to his very best form – he was a serious machine that day. He kept progressing, from the Ormonde to the Hardwicke and then again for the King George. Sadly, he got an injury when we were preparing him for the Juddmonte.
“Opera House was a very good and solid performer. Conduit was a model of consistency – a sound and lovely horse who won two Breeders’ Cups.
“It was Golan’s first appearance of the year – that was a good feat – a Guineas winner from the year before and second in the Derby. He was a pretty decent horse, but probably did not get the credit he deserved.
“Some lovely horses in a great race.”