Racing: Greek Dance gives Stoute good reason to sing

The man who trained Shergar and Shahrastani to win the premier Classic has a third Derby victory in range. Richard Edmondson reports
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The Independent Online
IF Greek Dance wins the Derby this afternoon it will almost certainly mean curtains for the Queen's Stand at Epsom. Michael Stoute will laugh and the masonry will start falling.

Mr Stoute doesn't giggle or titter. When he is amused he explodes and the whole vicinity appears to rock. The tremors come regularly because the trainer is both hugely successful and constantly amazed by his own good fortune. "I know for a fact that I've been very fortunate," he says. "I've always got a bit of an opening when I needed one, the sort of opportunities not a lot of people get."

You may care to believe then that through good luck you can win the Derby, the Dubai World Cup, the Japan Cup and the Breeders' Cup, and the other great sheaf of Group One races Stoute has collected in over 25 years with a licence. But then you'd have to be as crackers as the trainer sometimes appears to be on the Newmarket gallops.

You can tell Stoutey's coming in the mornings because he either whistles or sings all the time. Sometimes he does the laugh. One day a huge butterfly net will come plonking down on him.

Stoute received me at Freemason Lodge this week and let me into the sitting room, a collision of flowery sofas and equine memorabilia, a sort of Newmarket Horseracing Museum meets Laura Ashley. Here are the trappings of a winner. There is a montage of Singspiel's five Group Ones, pictures of his previous Derby winners Shergar and Shahrastani, and, inexplicably, a silver ash tray commemorating Mistress Gwyn's victory in the Janice and Matthew's Wedding Day Stakes at Catterick in 1994.

Stoute does not use this ash tray though he does smoke his Silk Cut. He chews gum at the same time. And he talks. This last bit will come as something of a surprise to those who know the trainer only through the racecourse.

After he has won a contest Michael Stoute is the most elusive trainer in British racing. He comes puffing into the winners' enclosure and then seems as though he will do just about anything rather than talk to the press. When he is cornered, this Scarlet Monosyllable always pretends he has seen someone in the distance and scurries round the pack.

Stoute at home is a different matter. You get the benefit of his Caribbean basso profundo (his family stretches back to the 1600s in Barbados), the sort of voice that communicates with micro-organisms at the bottom of the sea. This week it has been talking a lot about the Derby.

"We've been fortunate enough to have a lot of international success here and there have been great days and great thrills," Stoute says. "It's just degrees of great thrills. Dubai [and Singspiel's World Cup] was particularly satisfying because we took a high-class grass horse and beat the American horses on a surface he was unfamiliar with.

"But it's the Derby which is the seriously important race of them all. All round it creates more natural buzz because it's a race with great history and it's run in England.

"Having a horse like Greek Dance causes a lift for the whole yard. It's interesting and it's exciting to have him around. Everyone's delighted and fascinated with the horse.

"I think we go to Epsom with a sound chance of being in the frame. He's got the pedigree, which helps, and we'd be very surprised if he didn't get the trip. We're happy with him and he's progressing nicely. He's not a spectacular horse at home but that can be a characteristic of some of Sadler's Wells' stock. He does good class work but he's not as good in the mornings as he is in the afternoon.

"He looks pretty safe and we'd be disappointed if we didn't run very well."

Stoute's principal confederate this afternoon will be Walter Swinburn. The Choirboy is more the senior chorister these days and also a more rounded person in and out of the saddle according to his main employer. The two have had their spats. "I think Wally has a God-given talent and it was all pretty easy for him early on," Stoute says. "He started here as stable jockey in 1981 when we had a spectacular year with Shergar, Marwell, Hard Fought and Dalsaan.

"But he's always had a weight problem and discipline has been lacking at times. I just felt he wasn't achieving his potential so we've had some ups and downs on the way through.

"But I can only give him full credit for what he's done, walking away from racing and then coming back probably fitter and better prepared, mentally and physically, than he's ever been before. He's riding well."

Michael Stoute looks out of the window and across what must be one of the least frilly yards in Newmarket. The central green looks suspiciously like a council football pitch, and there are large flower tubs, unconvincing decoration, at each corner.

Stoute probably believes that owners appreciate horses more than horticulture and he prefers to impress the former with results. He manages that as well as anyone, which is why rich folk are happy to entrust expensive thoroughbreds to a man who seeks to make them even more valuable breeding machines. "I am very well aware of the commercial aspects of the sport which mean more to some of my owners than others," Stoute says. "That's my job. But it would be ungrateful to call it pressure.

"I always like what Jack Berry says, that it's much tougher at the bottom. We're lucky to have that calibre of horse."

Stoute is only 52 and will be providing board and lodging for the very best thoroughbreds for many seasons to come. "We look at every year as a different year and we realise we have to achieve," he says. "It's got to happen.

"There are a lot of owners to keep happy and a lot of lads competitive with each other because it might be their turn that particular year. We're happy but we're not satisfied. We want to keep doing it and the fear of failure is always there."

His fellow trainers will be glad to hear that Michael Ronald Stoute feels fear. He is usually the one causing it. Greek Dance may literally bring the house down this afternoon.

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