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Pyledriver in great heart with sights set on King George

Pyledriver is on track for the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes after missing a Royal Ascot engagement to focus on the race.

The colt was last seen triumphing in Epsom’s Coronation Cup, crossing the line a neck ahead of 7-4 favourite and runner-up Al Aasy after a terrific battle.

A run in the Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal meeting was considered after the victory, but trainers William Muir and Chris Grassick opted to sidestep the meeting and give the four-year-old chance to fully recuperate.

Pyledriver’s recent work has suggested to Muir that the two-week turnaround would not have been an issue, but the handler is glad that he choose to forgo the Royal meeting and prioritise his longevity throughout the season.

“After his run at Epsom I thought we’d had a hard race and I thought it (Royal Ascot) might come a bit quick, so I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to run him after a hard race,” said Muir.

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“Then come confirmation time he was nearly bursting the place open and I thought ‘oh goodness, what do I do?’ – but then I thought ‘no, stick to your original plan’.

“He could have run because he was really, really fresh and well, he was jumping out of his skin.

“I think he could have taken the turnaround, but I want to space these races out because he could go anywhere and if I run him too many times in quick succession, will we get through to the Arc and those type of races at the back end of the year?

Martin Dwyer celebrates with Pyledriver
Martin Dwyer celebrates with Pyledriver (Mike Egerton/Jockey Club)

“I didn’t want to punish him, he’s a very good horse and I want to train him as a good horse, which I always would do with any animal.

“I don’t want to just run him in and out because he’s not here for that, he’s a very good animal.”

Pyledriver will bid for a second Group One success when he takes on the King George, run like the Coronation Cup over a mile and a half.

“At the moment he’s like a lion, we’re going to go for the King George,” Muir said.

“He’s in really good shape, he’s fresh as paint.”

Muir and Grassick’s stable star has become one of racing’s most popular success stories, something Muir attributes to the tale of his failure to sell as a foal and the underdog status he has gained from being trained by a smaller yard.

“He’s very popular because he’s very eye-catching and good looking,” he said.

“He does what he does and people like the story with a smaller stable.

“He’s a horse that wasn’t worth anything and he’s graduated to be a star performer.”

Coronation Cup hero Pyledriver likely to sit out Royal Ascot

Coronation Cup hero Pyledriver is likely to sidestep Royal Ascot and wait for the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the Berkshire track next month.

Joint trainer William Muir had pencilled in the Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday week for his stable star, but is currently minded to shelve that plan because Pyledriver’s battle with Al Aasy at Epsom on Friday has left a mark.

“It took a bit out of him – he didn’t eat brilliant for two nights but he licked up last night,” said Muir.

“The first night he normally does leave a bit, but the second night he’s normally back on it, so it probably took a little bit out of him.

“He’s got a Group One now, so let’s hope we can keep going.

“Royal Ascot was going to be the next race. But he’s going to need to knock the door down for me to be going there – otherwise we’ll wait for the King George.

“If he comes mad fresh by Monday when the confirmation stage is, then I’d think about it.

“But it was quite a battle on Friday. He might just need longer than two weeks to get back to his best. There’s no point going there if we’re not over this race.”

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.

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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.”

Pyledriver on course for Coronation Cup bid

William Muir and Chris Grassick’s Pyledriver is primed to bid for Group One glory in the Coronation Cup at Epsom next week.

The colt was seen for the first time this season when finishing second behind Sir Ron Priestley in the Group Two Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket on May 1, a race intended to prepare him for his long-term Epsom target.

The Coronation Cup has been on Pyledriver’s agenda since his successful three-year-old campaign, during which he enjoyed two Group Two triumphs in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and Great Voltigeur at York.

A Group One victory is now the chief goal for Muir, who trains in partnership Grassick and reports the stable star in fine fettle.

“Everything’s gone to plan – his work’s been great,” he said.

“He’s on target to go where we’ve said – right from day one, we’ve said that was his target, so he’ll go to Epsom a week on Friday.”

Muir was pleased with Pyledriver’s Jockey Club Stakes performance.

“He’s definitely where we want him – he was a horse that we were never going to take too much out of in his first race or really get stuck into him,” added the Lambourn trainer.

“You do take more out of them than you realise. But he’s right where I want him now, and he’s in great shape.”

This month’s downpours are likely to leave Epsom softer than usual for the Derby meeting, but Muir’s colt has form in testing conditions.

“The ground’s not a problem,” he said.

“He’s versatile and he can go on any ground you want.”

Muir sets sights on Coronation Cup date for Pyledriver

William Muir was delighted with Pyledriver’s seasonal reappearance on Saturday and will run his stable star next in the Coronation Cup at Epsom next month.

The Lambourn trainer expects the four-year-old to be “perfect” for the Group One over the Derby course and distance on June 4 after he blew away the cobwebs with a highly-encouraging effort in the Jockey Club Stakes.

Muir felt Pyledriver tired in the closing stages but ran a big race nevertheless in running the race-fit Sir Ron Priestley to two and quarter lengths in the Group Two at Newmarket.

“He’s come out of his race really well. His legs are grand, he’s trotted well, he’s eaten his food, he’s fine,” he said.

“He was probably just shy of match fitness and that left him a bit fresh. I did that on purpose as this race wasn’t the first and foremost.

“My main objective is to win Group Ones with him this year.

“The ground was very quick and, getting tired that last bit, he just rolled around, but he’s come out of it well. That will settle him.

“We’ve finished second in a Group Two and we’re in great shape for going forwards.

“He goes straight to Epsom now for the Coronation. Win, lose or draw, he was always going to go there. He will be perfect come Epsom.

“There will be no excuses there and there were no excuses on Saturday. Sir Ron Priestley was better than we were.

“Pyledriver had a little light canter on Monday morning. We’re very pleased and it’s onwards and upwards.”

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.