"Oh, are you really, sir?" came the unimpressed reply, "I thought the best was Michael Stoute."
The events in Dubai two weeks ago confirmed that, given the horsepower, Stoute has indeed few peers as a producer of finely tuned equine athletes. And when Singspiel galloped to his magnificent World Cup victory it represented a moment of intense pride to the man widely regarded as the professional's professional.
It was, make no mistake, a training performance of the highest calibre. Singspiel, owned by Sheikh Mohammed, had gone from strength to strength the previous autumn with top-level victories in Canada and Japan, but was unproven on the sand surface of Nad El Sheba. However, he had been selected and prepared for his greatest test with meticulous attention to detail. "And when he won it was one of the very best moments I've had," said Stoute. "We took a top-class grass horse on to the sand, took on the specialists and beat them."
His real satisfaction in that job thoroughly well done is one of the keys to his success. He combines his rare gift of a feel for horses, their physical and mental peculiarities and needs, with a voracious quest for knowledge and a thoroughness in its application. His idyosyncracy is to whistle and sing while supervising his horses on the gallops - you can invariably hear him before you see him - but it is only a mask for a mind constantly in overdrive. He said: "In this business you're on a constant learning curve and every horse, every situation, presents a fresh challenge."
Stoute, 51, was born in Barbados (cricket is his other passion), the son of the local police chief. He once toyed with a career as a sportswriter, and supplied his local papers with racing and tipping pieces. "I took it seriously for a while," he said, "but then I was sent to cover a bloody hockey match." He came to Britain at the age of 19 and studied as pupil assistant to canny Pat Rohan in Malton for three years, during which time he made an attempt to revive his journalistic career by auditioning for the BBC job which went to Julian Wilson.
Television's loss was the horse world's gain. In his 25 years with a licence Stoute has saddled nearly 2,000 winners, including those of 16 British and Irish Classics. At the top of the roll of honour is the one racehorse of whom even non-racing folk have heard, the brilliant, ill- fated Shergar; the others are a Who's Who of high-class thoroughbreds: another Derby winner, Shahrastani; Oaks heroines in Fair Salinia and Unite; sprinters such as Marwell, Green Desert and Ajdal; the milers Sonic Lady and Shadeed; and a hurdles champion, Kribensis, thrown in for good measure.
Singspiel and his Breeders' Cup Turf-winning stablemate Pilsudski, both five-year-olds, are perfect examples of what can be achieved by owners having the patience to keep good horses in training beyond their Classic season. With the number of multi-million-dollar prizes in the increase world-wide it is a growing trend, and one Stoute welcomes and enjoys.
"It's easier to train older horses, not only because you know them better, but because they are more developed, men rather than adolescents, and they can cope with the work better. Physically they are just attaining their full powers; mentally you have to be tactful and keep them happy and interested, but it's a joy to train these sort of horses as they get older and stronger and better."
In this ultra-competitive game laurels tend to remain in their boxes, but the effect of Singspiel's $2.4m (pounds 1.5m) victory in Dubai was felt throughout Stoute's domain, Freemason Lodge and Beech Hurst Stables. Stoute said: "You have to put things behind you, even things like the World Cup, and keep looking ahead. There are a lot of horses here to be trained, a lot of people to have some success for. But Singspiel has given the yard the most tremendous lift just at the right time.
"The winter is long, and means a lot of hard work, and to have such a boost just as we're about to launch the new season has been a wonderful buzz for everyone. Not to mention a few quid in the pot for the staff, too; they get their 5 per cent of the prize."
Singspiel still has the golden cut-out stars and well-done notices on his stable door, but eyes are now turning to a younger member of the 160- strong team. Hopes for a third Derby for the yard lie in the strong, elegant bay shape of a colt called Entrepreneur, among the market leaders after winning twice last year, but as yet untested in top company.
Stoute said: "He has always impressed us and we're very hopeful, but I shan't get involved in any hype. But he has done particularly well from two to three. And for me, the great pleasure of the job is here at home, assessing the horses, training them and watching them develop.
"And then to see a top-class horse, an athlete that you have prepared, knuckle down and win is the greatest thrill there is. It still stirs my blood. And when it doesn't I'll know I'm ready to go six feet down."Reuse content