Racing: Singspiel swells Stoute haul

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When Saeed bin Suroor beat off the determined challenge of Henry Cecil to become the country's champion trainer, the kudos and congratulations he received were richly deserved, but as the Flat season finally tucks itself up for the winter, it is intriguing to note that while the man from Godolphin is the leading trainer in Britain, he is far from being Britain's leading trainer.

Early yesterday, Lanfranco Dettori coaxed Singspiel home by a nose in the Japan Cup, the world's third-richest race, and in the process nudged the total prize money won by Michael Stoute's yard, both at home and abroad, past pounds 4m, which is about pounds 1.5m ahead of the Godolphin string and far in advance of any of his British peers.

Stoute has led the way in a season which has seen British runners win 41 races in France alone, and his latest success comes just weeks after Singspiel's second place behind Pilsudski, his stablemate, in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Woodbine. His total overseas earnings of pounds 2,946,000 would have seen him home in the domestic championship with almost pounds 1m to spare.

Singspiel was sent off at 6.6-1 by the crowd of 137,000 in Tokyo, who made Helissio, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, a firm favourite in the late absence of Saintly, recent winner of the Melbourne Cup, who was found to be running a temperature. In the 15 years of the Japan Cup, however, no Arc winner has followed up in Tokyo, and Helissio could only dead-heat for third as Singspiel and the locally-trained Fabulous La Fouine fought neck and neck up the stretch, with Dettori finally forcing his mount past the post a nose to the good. Strategic Choice, trained by Paul Cole, shared the minor honours with Helissio. The third British raider, Geoff Wragg's Pentire, could not reproduce the high-summer form which brought victory in the King George at Ascot, and could finish only eighth.

"It has been one of the best days of my life," Dettori said, shortly after leaping from Singspiel's back in the winner's enclosure in what is now becoming time-honoured fashion. "The Japan Cup is one of the richest races in the world, very famous, very prestigious. The colt was well prepared by Michael Stoute, it was a great battle and a wonderful race."

Tight finishes are nothing new for Singspiel, but Sheikh Mohammed's colt usually finds himself on the wrong end of the decision. "My horse is accustomed to such things," Stoute said, "he has been in six photo-finishes and been beaten in five of them. Today was his day. We did have our worries when he ran a temperature after arriving in Japan, but thanks to the vets here and the staff involved, the fever subsided and he was able to progress well. I did have doubts about Helissio keeping his form at such a late stage of the season after a strenuous trip to Japan, so I thought that if we were to beat him, the Japan Cup would be our chance."

Singspiel is the fifth runner from Europe to land the race, but only the second from Britain, following the victory of Jupiter Island 10 years ago for Stoute's near-neighbour in Newmarket, Clive Brittain. The only disappointment for neutral observers was that Saintly, who endured a difficult 14-hour journey from Australia, was unable to make the race a true contest between the hemispheres. He had been found to be running a 39-degree temperature, and was scratched.

After such a profitable season abroad, Britain's leading trainers deserve the Club class flights to the West Indies for which many will even now be packing. As well as the 41 victories secured in France, Italy (22) and Ireland (also 22) provided healthy returns, though in the latter case at least, the balance of payments may shift as the National Hunt season progresses.

Eddie O'Grady's Sound Man, for instance, will try to do his bit in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown next month, following a hard-fought success on heavy ground at Clonmel yesterday. The victory offered a crumb of consolation to O'Grady, whose 1996 Arkle Trophy winner, Ventana Canyon, was put down last week after breaking a leg on the gallops.

JAPAN CUP: 1. SINGSPIEL (L Dettori); 2. Fabulous La Fouine (M Matsunaga); dead-heat 3. Strategic Choice (T Quinn), dead-heat 3. Helissio (O Peslier). 15 ran. won by a nose, 11/4 lengths. (Trained by Michael Stoute at Newmarket for Sheikh Mohammed). Winner: pounds 1,073,993. Tote (to 100 yen stake): win 760: places Singspiel 210, Fabulous La Fouine 360, Strategic Choice 560, Helissio 150. Non Runner: Saintly.