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Muir plots high-profile campaign for Pyledriver

William Muir has outlined a “road map” for Pyledriver, who he feels will make his mark in 2021.

The Lambourn trainer reports his stable star to have thrived physically during the winter and is looking forward to pitching him into the top middle-distance events during the season.

Muir has four races pencilled in from early May to the end of July, starting with Newmarket’s Jockey Club Stakes. The Coronation Cup at Epsom is the second port of call, followed by the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes back at Ascot in July, should all go to plan.

“He’s been cantering since early January and doing two steady canters for the last four to six weeks. He still moves like a ballet dancer,” said Muir.

“We won’t be doing any more than that for a while, because his first race won’t be until May, when he’ll go to Newmarket for the Jockey Club Stakes.

William Muir greets Martin Dwyer and Pyledriver at Royal Ascot
William Muir greets Martin Dwyer and Pyledriver at Royal Ascot (Edward Whitaker/PA)
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“We’ve got a road map at this present time. If we meet all the criteria we’re going to go for the Jockey Club, then we’re going to go on to the Coronation Cup. They will definitely be the first two if all is in good shape, and then the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and then the King George.

“If he wins all those we’ll decide where we go after that!”

Muir senses the son of Harbour Watch has greatly benefited from the winter.

“He had a fantastic break,” he said.

“He stayed with me in the yard. His break was an exercise on the horse walker in the morning, and then he went out in the field for four hours every afternoon.

“He then went into small paddock on his own in the afternoons – which was lovely, when there were no others out – and he loved it, acting like a stallion in a stallion paddock. He thrived and put on about 55-60 kilos.

“He was still a boy last year. Now he’s turning into a man. He’s got his strength very nearly. This year, and next year, should be when he’s at his peak. I’m looking forward to it now.”

Pyledriver on his way to victory at York
Pyledriver on his way to victory at York (David Davies/PA)

Pyledriver was a leading three-year-old colt of 2020, winning a pair of Group Twos – the King Edward VII Stakes and the Great Voltigeur Stakes – before finishing third in the St Leger over an extended mile and three-quarters.

He ended the campaign unplaced in the Champion Stakes at Ascot when dropped to mile and a quarter. Muir reflected on those last two efforts.

“I wasn’t disappointed with his last run,” he said.

“He was still a big baby and still finished seventh in the Champion Stakes and finished in front of Mishriff, and the way we rode him on the day nothing came from behind.

“We decided to ride him the same, but I feel being forward on the day was a big advantage. From that day on, he was on his holidays. We lost nothing in defeat. He did everything great for us.

“Personally I feel the Leger, in which he ran a fantastic race, left its mark. It took more out of him than we realised.”

Champion Stakes on the agenda for Pyledriver

A crack at the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot is next on the agenda for Pyledriver following his fine effort to finish third in the Pertemps St Leger.

Having already won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York this season, William Muir’s stable star was strongly fancied for the final British Classic of the year at Doncaster on Saturday.

After travelling strongly for much of the race, the son of Harbour Watch ended up racing on the far side of the track in the closing stages and ultimately had to make do with minor honours.

Muir said: “He’s come home safe and sound. I wondered whether the race might have taken a bit out of him, but he’s eaten everything and he’s in great shape.”

Jockey Martin Dwyer – Muir’s son-in-law – felt Pyledriver failed to see out the trip of a mile and three-quarters and he is set to come back to a mile and a quarter on Champions Day.

“I don’t want to be dogmatic and say he didn’t stay. He didn’t stay quite as well as the first two, but I felt he was closing again at the line and at the end of the day he’s been beaten a length and a neck,” Muir added.

“He couldn’t quite go through the gears like he did at York. It didn’t help that he got a bump and ended up out on a wing on his own, but that’s racing.

“The Champion Stakes was the plan and I don’t see any reason to change it.

“I think he’ll be fine back at a mile and a quarter and if it did come up heavy ground, he’d handle that and it would mean you’d nearly need to stay a mile and a half well to win, which he obviously does.

“He is still a bit weak, which I’ve been telling everyone all year. He’ll be some horse next year, I promise you.”

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.

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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.”

Pyledriver tops St Leger dozen

Pyledriver is among a field of 12 for the Pertemps St Leger at Doncaster.

William Muir’s stable star will try to complete his fairytale rise on Saturday, after victories in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York.

The Lambourn trainer’s ace will face the might of Ballydoyle, with Aidan O’Brien three-handed as he aims to win the Leger for a seventh time. Irish Derby hero Santiago heads his team, completed by Dawn Patrol and Mythical.

Joseph O’Brien’s Galileo Chrome and Sunchart, trained by Andy Slattery, are the other Irish-based runners.

Ed Walker has declared English King, but the Lingfield Derby Trial victor is more likely to go to France for Sunday’s Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris at ParisLongchamp.

Walker told Sky Sports Racing: “We’ve declared for the St Leger – but the plan for a long time has been to head to France, and we’re still very much leaning that way.

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“We’re just very concerned about travel arrangements and the changing world of Covid. With numbers increasing here, the last thing in the world we want is for France to slap a two-week quarantine on people coming from England to France and then we can’t go – so we’re just covering all angles.

“We have to decide finally by 8.30am tomorrow, so it basically gives us an extra day to see how the water lies. If everything is equal we’ll be going to Paris on Sunday.

“Tom (Marquand) is booked to ride in the Leger, because I told Frankie (Dettori) a few weeks ago we were very unlikely to run in the Leger – and as far as I understand, Frankie is riding Santiago.

“Frankie is already (set to be) in France to ride Stradivarius, so I think we’ve got everything covered. It’s a huge day for Bjorn (Nielsen, owner) with Stradivarius back over a mile and a half in the Prix Foy on his way to the Arc.

“I think English King is as good as I’ve had him all year, to be honest. I know he’s got doubters now but I’m not one and I’m hoping this weekend he’ll prove them all wrong.”

Hukum (left) was a decisive winner of Newbury's Geoffrey Freer Stakes
Hukum (left) was a decisive winner of Newbury’s Geoffrey Freer Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hukum, winner of the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury, will bid to give his trainer Owen Burrows a first Classic triumph at Doncaster.

Berkshire Rocco, Mohican Heights, Subjectivist and Tyson Fury complete the dozen hopefuls.

The three withdrawals at the 48-hour final declaration stage were Max Vega, Tiger Moth and Believe In Love – due to run in the Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster on Thursday afternoon.

Chindit is set to put his unbeaten record on the line at Doncaster
Chindit is set to put his unbeaten record on the line at Doncaster (Bill Selwyn/PA)

Richard Hannon’s unbeaten colt Chindit faces six opponents in the Group Two bet365 Champagne Stakes.

Among the Ascot Listed race winner’s rivals are the experienced pair of Broxi and Devious Company, as well as Owen Burrows’ Albasheer and Irish raider State Of Rest.

Two past winners of the Prix de la Foret – Limato and One Master – are among eight runners in the Group Two bet365 Park Stakes.

Wichita, runner-up in the 2000 Guineas, and Jersey Stakes scorer Molatham represent the Classic generation.