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Pyledriver digs deep to see off Al Aasy in thrilling Coronation Cup

Pyledriver battled back in the closing stages to deny Al Aasy and lift the Coral Coronation Cup at Epsom for his first Group One triumph.

Al Aasy headed Martin Dwyer’s mount in the final furlong, but Pyledriver (8-1) rallied in determined fashion on the rail to snatch the verdict by a neck for the relatively new training partnership of William Muir and Chris Grassick.

Dwyer made a brave move at halfway when he took the bull by the horns and sent Pyledriver into the lead after Highland Chief had taken them along.

Albaflora tried to put in a challenge, but it was Al Aasy who cruised alongside under Jim Crowley and looked like he could take the leader.

The 7-4 favourite did hit the front but, with the rail to help, Pyledriver regained the initiative in the dying strides, as the first two drew seven lengths clear of Japan in third.

It was a landmark success for Dwyer who has now won all three of Epsom’s showpiece events, after the Oaks on Casual Look in 2003 and the Derby on Sir Percy in 2006.

Dwyer said: “He really dug deep. It was a tremendous race to ride in and I’m sure it was to watch. Two very good horses drew clear.

“He deserved to win a Group One. He’s won two Group Twos and mixed it at the top level. We’re just delighted he’s won his Group One and hopefully he can do it again.

“It’s special. If you’re not fashionable it’s hard to get good rides. Sometimes you feel you are defending yourself if you don’t win. Half my worry was losing the ride on him. When it comes right and you win a big race, you enjoy it that bit more. I’m very excited. He can only get better.

Martin Dwyer returns victorious with Pyledriver
Martin Dwyer returns victorious with Pyledriver (John Walton/PA)

He went on: “It’s great. It’s getting harder and harder. All the good horses are in the hands of a very few trainers now and I think that is why people like to see horses like this fella, and with his sporting owners as well, as the underdog to have a go on the big day and achieve something.

“On a personal level, I’ve got to say there’s times when I’ve hated racing, hated it, had bad days and driven home in a bad mood.

“But days like this, I can’t describe in words what I’m feeling inside – it’s just euphoria.

“This is a wonderful sport – anyone can achieve things, great things. I’m nearly crying – what’s wrong with me?

“You have to fight your corner and when I was doing well, I was nicking rides off other jockeys and that is the nature of the game. That makes it more special when you win.

“I love this place. I always have. I’ve had some great times here. I’ve been lucky. It’s a very special place, but it’s not an easy place. Things can go right and things can go wrong.

“My horse dug deep and battled back. He does veer off a bit and maybe that’s something we need to iron out because we’re not going to get away with it forever.

“It worked today, we got the rail. You can’t question the horse’s attitude because he could easily have given in there. Jim had me tight and gave me no room. He didn’t lie down, he came back.

“I’m 45 and it’s been great this season with older jockeys like Frankie Dettori, Kevin Manning and Franny Norton winning big races. You can’t beat experience.

“While I’m still able to kick one in the belly and push one home I’ll keep going.”

It was also a famous first Group One for Muir, who said: “I started training in 1990 and I’ve got touched off smidgens in Group Ones. Stepper Point got touched off in two and Averti got beaten in a photo in the Prix de l’Abbaye. I’ve never had a Group One winner and this is it – this is what we do it for.

“I’m lucky I’ve now got it. Chris Grassick has only been at the job five minutes and he’s got a Group One winner! Well done to Chris as well, who has gone to Bath.

“I’m came here thinking he’d win. I had a meeting yesterday with the owners at a service station and we decided we were going to make the running and change the bridle.

“When he went to Newmarket, I was in no place to say he was 100 per cent, as today was the day I wanted to win a Group One with him.

“He was very brave. If you watch it from the outside people ask ‘why does he wander, why does he do this and that’. It’s just in his make-up, I don’t know why he does it, but he is brave.”

Asked about future plans, he added: “It’s mapped out all year – Jockey Club Stakes, Coronation Cup, Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and then the King George.

“I should think we’ll look at the Arc later on in the year, if we’re allowed to go with Covid and everything.”

Dwyer – who is Muir’s son in law – added: “It was a special moment. William has waited a long time for his Group One. We’ve come very close, beaten short heads in Group Ones and this lad has been a bit frustrating at times.”

Meanwhile, William Haggas said of Al Aasy: “He came to win and didn’t win. I’m disappointed he was beaten, but it would be very hard to suggest it was lack of resolution. He’s only a Group Three winner and he’s run a very good race to be beaten only a neck in a Group One.

“He’s got more to offer I feel.”

Crowley added: “Fair play to the winner, who battled well. Al Aasy just lugged down the camber a little bit, but he’s run a big race.”

Martin Dwyer set for weekend return

Martin Dwyer is hoping to return to action at Newmarket on Saturday after a spell on the sidelines with an injured shoulder.

Dwyer parted company with Cloud Thunder at Kempton on October 21 when the gelding veered towards the parade ring after finishing second in the Unibet Thanks The Frontline Workers Novice Median Auction Stakes.

After an enforced break due to the resulting injuries, a damaged shoulder and several cracked ribs, Dwyer is hoping to ease himself back into action ahead of the weekend by riding out on the gallops.

“Obviously I’ve been a bit swollen, I’ve had to have some physio and assessments,” said the jockey, who won the 2006 Derby at Epsom on Sir Percy.

“I’m going to be riding out for the next couple of days and hopefully I’ll be back on Saturday at Newmarket.

“I hurt my shoulder, I think I just banged a nerve but my shoulder is all good now. I’ve cracked a couple of ribs but there’s nothing they can do for them, I’ll just have to give them a bit of time.

“They’re feeling better now, so I’m going to ride out over the next couple of days and as long as it’s all OK I’ll be riding on Saturday.”

Dwyer out to make most of unexpected chance on Pyledriver

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.

Martin Dwyer aboard Sir Percy after winning the 2006 Derby
Martin Dwyer aboard Sir Percy after winning the 2006 Derby (Sean Dempsey/PA)

“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.

Pyledriver with trainer William Muir after winning at Royal Ascot
Pyledriver with trainer William Muir after winning at Royal Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)

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.”

Frankie Dettori (left) and Martin Dwyer
Frankie Dettori (left) and Martin Dwyer (Adam Davy/PA)

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.”