Martin Dwyer is keen to make the most of an opportunity he thought may never come again, aboard Pyledriver in the Pertemps St Leger.
It is 17 years since Liverpudlian broke his Classic duck aboard the Andrew Balding-trained Casual Look in the Oaks at Epsom. Three years later, he enjoyed the greatest triumph of his career on Marcus Tregoning’s Sir Percy in the Derby.
Now in the twilight of his career at the age of 45, Dwyer has found big-race mounts harder to come by in recent seasons, but will be thrust back into the spotlight at Doncaster this weekend as he partners the likely Leger favourite.
“It’s so hard to get rides in Classics and in these big races. To be going there with a favourite – I’m over the moon,” said Dwyer.
“There are so many talented, young jockeys coming through now – it’s great to put them back in their place now and again!
“I’m obviously in the latter part of my career, but I actually feel more relaxed and happy and content – I just go out and ride and not worry about anything.
“I haven’t got youth on my side, but I’ve got plenty of experience (and) I’m enjoying riding more than ever.
“If I’m totally honest, in the last four or five years I thought my days of riding horses as good as Pyledriver were gone. To get another bite of the cherry is fantastic – hopefully I can make it count.”
In a sport increasingly dominated by the powerhouse owners and yards, Pyledriver bids to strike a blow for the smaller man on Town Moor.
The star of a string of less than 30 horses trained by Dwyer’s father-in-law William Muir, the son of Harbour Watch has made giant strides this season – claiming big-race victories in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York.
“It’a a great story. It’s great for racing, I think – and it would be great for us if we could win a Classic,” added Dwyer.
“Over the past five or 10 years, all the good horses seem to have been in the same hands – with the top trainers and top jockeys.
“This horse has shown you don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands or millions on bloodstock – you can breed a horse and compete at the top level.
“The dream is alive.”
Chief among Pyledriver’s Doncaster rivals is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Santiago, the mount of Dwyer’s fellow veteran Frankie Dettori.
Dwyer has nothing but praise and admiration for the popular Italian.
He said: “I started with Ian Balding many years ago, and Frankie was stable jockey. I looked up to him – we’re very good friends and have been for many years.
“Frankie is a superstar. He’s five or six years older than me, but he’s riding better than ever, and it’s a joy to watch him.
“I’ve learnt lots from him over the years. His positioning in a race is unbelievable – he always seems to be in the right place at the right time – (and) that’s what wins big races.”
Dwyer is confident Pyledriver possesses the required tools to claim victory, which is part of the 2020 Qipco British Champions Series, with the step up to a mile and three-quarters the only real question mark hanging over him.
“The horse looks fantastic and is fit and well – the team have done a great job with him,” he said.
“The key thing with this horse is he’s just improved all year. Even when he won at Royal Ascot he was like a teenager – whereas now, he’s becoming a man.
“He wasn’t stopping at York and hit the line strong and full of running. He has got gears and has speed for a mile and a quarter, but I think he will stay if the race pans out well and he relaxes, which he normally does.
“He’s got a lot of talent. Sir Percy was a different kettle of fish, because he was a very precocious two-year-old – whereas this lad is a bit of a slow-burner and has taken his time, but his progression has been pretty unbelievable.
“It would be nice to win another Classic. I’m riding a very good horse, and they’ve all got me to beat.
“Touch wood, if things go well, he will win. So I’ll just go out there and enjoy it.”