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Dwyer and Muir hoping to pull off fairytale in St Leger with Pyledriver

10 Sep 2020

12 strong field line-up for the final British Classic of 2020

Martin Dwyer and his father-in-law, William Muir, believe Pyledriver has all the attributes needed to provide them with a fairytale triumph in the £350,000 Pertemps St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday.

The final Classic of the year, first run in 1776 and part of the QIPCO British Champions Series, has attracted a final field of 12. It features three challengers from the yard of serial Irish Champion Trainer, Aidan O’Brien, who is seeking a 39th British Classic success and has already landed this year’s Investec Derby, Investec Oaks and QIPCO 1000 Guineas.

O’Brien’s principal challenger, Santiago, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby winner, will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, whose tally of 258 Group 1 triumphs includes six St Leger victories. By contrast, Muir is still searching for his first win at the highest level, having been training a similar amount of time as O’Brien, while Dwyer’s last Group 1 victory in Britain was 14 years ago aboard Sir Percy in the 2006 Derby.

Dwyer, 45, said: “If I’m totally honest, for the last four or five years I thought my days of riding horses as good as Pyledriver were gone. To get another bite at the cherry is fantastic and hopefully I can make it count. They’ve all got me to beat. Touch wood, if things go well he will win.

“He’s definitely up there among the best horses I’ve ridden. He’s been a bit of a slow-burner but his progression has been unbelievable. William and his team have done a tremendous job.”

Pyledriver has been known by those closest to him as “Dave” from the day he was foaled and is owned by brothers Guy and Huw Leach, plus their long-time friend Roger Devlin. He changed hands for only 10,000gns as a yearling; something Muir puts down to his sire [Harbour Watch] becoming unfashionable. He sees parallels in his own Lambourn yard, where 26 horses reside. “It’s all fashion, nobody even looked at him – and he’s gorgeous to look at with a great stride,” Muir said. “We’re not a fashionable yard, everyone wants somebody younger. It’s just one of those things. If this horse could go and win on Saturday it would be fantastic for the whole team and everyone around it.”

Pyledriver announced himself on the big stage when an emphatic winner of the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in June and put a luckless run in the Investec Derby behind him when a commanding winner of the Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes at York last month, when conceding 3lb to each of his seven rivals.

Dwyer said: “He surprised me a bit at Ascot with how easily he won but even there he was like a teenager and now he’s become a man. He destroyed the field at York and has just flourished all year.

“It’s a great story, this year more than ever because it’s been difficult times. Over the past five to ten years all the good horses have seemed to be in the same hands. It’s got harder and harder. He’s shown you can have a horse for £10,000 and compete at the top level – the dream is alive. It’s just what racing has needed at this time.”

Big-money offers for Pyledriver, exceeding seven figures, have been rejected. Muir said: “If the offers had been accepted I don’t think he would have stayed in this country – places like Australia and Hong Kong wanted him really badly. If one person had owned him, you couldn’t have said no to the kind of offers we got  – it was life-changing money – but there’s three of them, and they wanted to keep him.”

Pyledriver’s stamina is untested beyond a mile and a half but Dwyer said: “He wasn’t stopping at York. He hit the line strong and I don’t think it [the trip] will be a problem. He’s got gears and the speed for a mile and a quarter but as long as he relaxes, as he does, then I don’t think it will be an issue.”

Muir accepts his pedigree gives mixed messages but says: “Do I think he will stay? Yes, as I think he has the right attitude. He’s got such a relaxed way about him. I’m in a good place because the owners have said ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen? If we get beat we can come back in trip.’ It’s a horse race, he’s in fantastic form and if he stays he will be very hard to beat.”

Pyledriver will stay in training next year and Muir says his final run of this season will be in the QIPCO Champion Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on October 17.

Santiago won the Irish Derby just eight days after landing the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot at the main expense of Berkshire Rocco. On his latest start, he finished third to Stradivarius in the Qatar Goodwood Cup when things did not go quite to plan.

O’Brien said: “Goodwood didn’t work as we would have liked. We usually like to take our time on him but he hit the gates on Ryan [Moore] and he couldn’t really get him back. He was sitting in that second position and Ryan felt he was probably in a gear too high all the way. Because of that he went from travelling very well to having to drop him and ask him to go and race very quick. He really didn’t get his breath to go again.

“We had to give him a little bit of an easy time after it because obviously when things don’t go smooth for a horse they usually have a harder race but he seems in good form again.”

O’Brien and Dettori have teamed up for St Leger glory once before, striking with front-running Scorpion in 2005. The prospect of Dwyer and Dettori fighting out the finish on the market leaders is quite something and Dwyer said: “We’ve been friends for many years and I’ve always looked up to him. Frankie’s a superstar and riding better than ever. It’s a joy to watch him and I’ve learnt lots from him over the years. His positioning is just unbelievable and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. That’s what wins big races.”

O’Brien also runs Dawn Patrol, who was third in the Irish Derby, and Mythical while his son, Joseph, will field the progressive Galileo Chrome, who has won each of his three starts this year. There is one other Irish challenger in the shape of the Andrew Slattery-trained Sunchart.

Owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum is enjoying a fabulous year but his silks have never been carried to victory in the St Leger. He bids to put that right with the Owen Burrows-trained Hukum, who won the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot on his return before following up in the Group 3 Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury.

Front-running Subjectivist lines up on the back of a 15-length romp in the Group 3 Ladbrokes March Stakes at Goodwood. He had previously finished third in the Group 3 John Pearce Racing Gordon Stakes at the same venue, with English King behind in fourth. English King had previously been a landing fancy for the Investec Derby, at Epsom, where he finished a staying-on fifth, with Mohican Heights, absent since, back in twelfth. Ed Walker, the trainer of English King, has said his colt remains more likely to run in France on Sunday.

The field is completed by the Richard Spencer-trained Tyson Fury, who belied odds of 20/1 when winning a novice stakes on his debut over 1m4f at Doncaster in early July.