Pyledriver surprises King George rivals with clear-cut Ascot success

Pyledriver ran out a surprise winner of the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot.

A small but select field of six assembled for the midsummer showpiece, with much of the pre-race attention focussing on runaway Irish Derby winner Westover and John and Thady Gosden’s pair of globetrotting star Mishriff and Oaks runner-up Emily Upjohn.

It is a measure of the strength of the field that William Muir and Chris Grassick’s stable star Pyledriver was a widely unconsidered 18-1 shot, despite having won at Group One level in last year’s Coronation Cup and finished second when defending his Epsom crown last month.

There was drama from the off, with last year’s runner-up Mishriff standing still when the stalls opened and losing several lengths as a result, while Westover and Broome took each other on in front.

With that pair seemingly softening each other up, Pyledriver – ridden by former jump jockey PJ McDonald – got a lovely tow into the race and moved to the lead in the home straight.

German raider Torquator Tasso, a shock winner of last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, came from out of the pack to try to challenge, but Pyledriver never really looked in any danger of being reeled in and passed the post with two and three-quarter lengths in hand.

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Torquator Tasso was a clear second, with Mishriff some eight lengths further behind in third.

“I honestly believed I’d win from two weeks ago,” said Muir.

“I’d seen him do a piece of work – like last year when he worked with Pogo. Everyone will say ‘what a great training performance from Willie Muir and Chris Grassick,’ but let’s not take too much away – Jeta (Ram, work rider) does most of it. He rides him and every single morning I ask him, ‘what shall we do today, Jeta?’

“I thought we’d do a good, strong piece of work and he said ‘I thought I’d give him a little bit stronger’ – giving him seven furlongs and give him seven lengths to make up and he caught him. The seven-furlong horse is very good.

“I’m driving the box back – I don’t get away with anything! I’ve said I never wanted to cry, but I want to cry today.

“I thought for the last two weeks we’d win it. I didn’t care what was in it. I know they say Westover was fantastic in the Irish Derby. I know they say Emily Upjohn was terrific, but we know this horse is a very, very good horse.

“He was just showing everything at home – all the signs.”

PJ McDonald with the King George trophy
PJ McDonald with the King George trophy (John Walton/PA)

Muir added: “Today, we smashed them to pieces. I actually wrote the papers for you boys tomorrow. I said ‘If Pyledriver wins, the line is a poor bunch of three-year-olds again. If the three-year-olds win, a great crop’.

“They are a great crop, the three-year-olds. He is just a very, very talented horse. He is just a very good horse and I’ve never lost faith in him.

“In our second or third year, we had a horse who came here and won a five-furlong race and we were partying in the car park for ages. When Pyledriver won the King Edward VII a couple of years ago, we would still be in the car park today if we’d been able to, but we couldn’t because of Covid.

“We haven’t had a party yet, but I can tell you now – I don’t drink and I’m not going to start to drink – but everybody else will have a party. This is a big, big moment. It means the world to me.”

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