'His Training Has Been Very Smooth Up To Now': Desert Crown Set for Sandown Return

Desert Crown pulls clear of Solid Stone and Bay Bridge on Newmarket's Limekilns | Emma Berry


NEWMARKET, UK–Oh, to be in England now that April's there. So wrote Robert Browning in 1845, though it is unconfirmed that this had anything to do with Classic trials. An unusually wet and cold April did little to lift the spirits this year, so we shall fast-forward to another line of his lovely poem. And after April, when May follows.

May is becoming more marvellous by the day. There's York, of course, and who doesn't love York? It is a racecourse which comes close to perfection, from its location in one of the country's most beautiful cities, to the welcoming folk who greet you at the entrance, the candy-striped pillars of the old stand, superb racing, and last but very much not least, the plumptious Yorkshire puddings in the press room.

The results of the Musidora and the Dante made the great puzzles of Epsom even more intriguing with now just a fortnight left to ponder. The only one black mark in York's book, and that of many other tracks, is the tendency to play loud music as the winners return to scale. We were blasted with Train's irritating Hey, Soul Sister after the Musidora. At least if Passenger had won the Dante we could have had a decent bit of Iggy Pop. 

Passenger, who dead-heated for third with Continuous (Jpn) (Heart's Cry {Jpn}) behind Andrew Balding's The Foxes (Ire) (Churchill {Ire}), didn't get a clear run when he needed it and, having only first set foot on a racecourse to win the Wood Ditton, the son of Ulysses (Ire) does not currently hold a Derby entry. He surely soon will, and, if supplemented, he will reoppose another Ulysses colt in White Birch (Ire), who was an impressive runner-up in the Dante after winning the G3 Ballysax S. and will be a very welcome contender at Epsom for John Joseph Murphy. Twenty-one colts remain in the Derby after the May 19 deadline for scratchings, with 24 fillies standing their ground for the Oaks. 

Passenger, owned and bred by the Niarchos family's Flaxman Holdings, who also bred his sire, has a profile not unlike that 12 months ago of his stable-mate Desert Crown (GB). The word had got out about the latter ahead of last year's Dante, however, and he arrived at York with a justifiable buzz about him. 

Sarah Denniff, one of Sir Michael Stoute's most trusted lieutenants, rarely leaves Desert Crown's side except to let him gallop, as he did on Friday morning. A video produced recently to celebrate Stoute's induction into the QIPCO British Champions Series Hall of Fame, included a reminiscence from Denniff as to an upward shift in mood from “the boss” after a key piece of work for Desert Crown ahead of the Dante. Those in Stoute's team who know the trainer well may have been able to read into his musical accompaniment to Friday morning's work. He was humming while he waited for the gallopers, and later performed his own brilliant impression of a kazoo without the need of the instrument in question. 

Stoute, his assistant trainer James Savage, and Saeed Suhail's racing team of Bruce Raymond and Philip Robinson were among those watching on the green-carpeted slice of heaven that is the Limekilns. In a fleeting moment, Desert Crown breezed past in the heady company of Bay Bridge (GB) and Solid Stone (Ire). Richard Kingscote was back on the horse who gave him his Derby win, while Kevin Bradshaw led the gallop initially aboard Solid Stone until Desert Crown eased clear of his work companions. Bay Bridge bowled along readily under a motionless Ted Durcan.

Both Desert Crown and Solid Stone were subsequently given entries for Thursday's G3 Brigadier Gerard S. at Sandown, a race which could potentially see the return of last year's Prix de Diane winner Nashwa (GB) and Hukum (GB), who, like Desert Crown, has not been seen at the races since last year at Epsom, where he won the G1 Coronation Cup.

Issuing an update later in the day to TDN, James Savage said, “That was Desert Crown's last strong piece of work and we've been lucky to use some lovely ground, with the Round Gallop on the Limekilns this morning and [Newmarket] racecourse last Saturday. His training has been very smooth up to now, so fingers crossed that we stay healthy for Sandown.”

Of the eight entries for the Brigadier Gerard, he added, “It looks a very strong renewal this year but it is a great starting point for us.”

Solid Stone, now seven and an eight-time winner for Saeed Suhail, won last year's G2 Huxley S. at Chester and he too is heading to Sandown.

Savage continued, “He's a hard horse to place and with the Huxley Stakes being so soft we didn't go there. Again, it's an ideal place for him to start, and he can probably go to the Wolferton [at Royal Ascot] after that.”

James Wigan and Ballylinch Stud's Bay Bridge, who was third on his seasonal resumption in the G1 Prix Ganay, could head to Ireland for the G1 Tattersalls Gold Cup. 

Savage continued, “He is a fit horse and he generally works on his own but Sir Michael wanted him to have a bit of company this morning, so it was just a leg-stretcher. He will work early next week and then hopefully go to Ireland, all being well, next weekend.”

He also noted that Passenger has come out of the Dante in good order. “He didn't have a hard race,” he said. “I'm just looking at him out in the paddock now. He has taken it really well. It was a bit frustrating but we have learnt that he can be rated with the top three-year-olds, so we're happy.”


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