After disappointing in unfavourable conditions last time in Saudi Arabia last month, the Group One winner Pyledriver lines up in the £2.6 million Sheema Classic with Frankie Dettori booked to ride.
Trainer William Muir gave us the latest on his yard topliner ahead of this weekend’s World Pool event in Meydan.
“He’s travelled out lovely. He’s eating well and moving great, all his work is where we want it to be; so yeah very happy with him.” said the Lambourn trainer.
Normal service was resumed last season for the five-year-old, getting his head in front twice, making it three years in a row with at least two victories in a season. A lighter campaign than most last term, he has been contesting top international races over the winter.
Last time in the Group Three Neom Turf Cup luck was not on the Muir & Grassick team’s side. Drawn wide and impeded due to a faller in the closing stages, the Coronation Cup winner could only manage 11th behind winner Authority.
“He went out there in fantastic shape, we got drawn 14 which wasn’t ideal,” recalled Muir.
He continued: “We talked about all the different types of ways we could ride him, we didn't really want to drop him out the back. If he jumped out and went forward a mile and a quarter is probably not the ideal trip for us, it’s an okay trip but you need everything in your favour.
“He was out of his comfort zone being stuck out wide, four or five wide on a turning track; it’s like Chester, if you get drawn 14 there you’ve got no chance.”
Muir belives due to that run he is being underestimated by the market in Saturday’s showpiece. He said: “If we would’ve gone close there he wouldn’t be such an outsider in this race, people very quickly say ‘he’s had a bad run there - that's it’.
“He had a bad run for a reason.”
Perhaps forgotten in the build up to Saturday’s race, it is hard to forget Pyledriver’s victory at Epsom last year. Finally getting his break on the big stage, the dual Group Two scorer successfully stepped up in class to be a game winner of the Coronation Cup.
Following that Group One feat, he was well fancied for the King George but suffered a setback just a week before the race.
Muir revealed: “He was in fantastic shape a week before the King George, I thought we’d have won it or gone very close.
“He came off the gallops jumping and kicking, we got him into his box and he slipped. He tore a muscle - so he had to have time off.”
Back in full health and ready to contend in another Group One, Muir says it is dependent on Satruday’s effort what the rest of the season holds for his stable star.
He said: “We will see how we run on Saturday, and that will show us the path for the rest of the season.
“We could give him a holiday so he could come back to run in the King George, have another run then on to the Prix De l’Arc De Triomphe and Hong Kong afterwards.”
The ambitious owners of Pyledriver were encouraged by his exertion at Sha Tin in December, a runner up just touched off by Glory Vase, and Hong Kong is very much in the future plans for the five-year-old.
Muir said: “We want Hong Kong to be on the agenda again as long as they get through the problems they’re in at the moment; they’re not in a very good place with Covid.
“He could return to the Coronation Cup again, that suits him. Then we would give him a break and just come back for one race.
“Everything is on the table.”
Usual pilot Martin Dwyer is out on the sidelines after picking up an injury a couple of weeks ago, prolific Group One winner Frankie Dettori has been booked to deputise in his absence.
Muir indicated Dettori could be a good partner for Pyledriver, he said: “He knows Meydan superbly well, and obviously he’s a fantastic jockey. If the horse is good enough, he is good enough.”
The Epsom heroics in the Coronation were a landmark success for the new partnership of Muir and Grassick as their first Group One winner as dual licence holders.
Only a new feature of British racing last term, many have already switched to the dual licence system including John and Thady Gosden and Fergal O'Brien and Greame McPherson.
Muir and Grassick have been longtime friends and Muir cited it as a sensible way of Grassick gaining more experience as opposed to going alone, he said: “I've been training for a long time and Chris had wanted to start for a while.
“If he would’ve started in this day and age with a small number of horses and his own place, it only would have gone one way. Unless you’re very lucky if you need a serious amount of money behind you when you’re starting out.
“It has helped Chris to get going, it helps me because we work well as a team. Do I work any less? No, does Chris work as hard as me, definitely yes.”
Muir has trained Pyledriver for the whole of his racing career thus far, now on the brink of breaking the £1 million prize money barrier he recalled watching him stylishly score on debut at Salisbury as a two-year-old.
He said: “I’ve always thought he was a very good horse. When we went to Sailsbury I came out to the paddock and said to the owners this horse shouldn’t be 66 or 50/1, he is working the place down at home.
“They said well we better get our bets on. It wasn’t a monstrous bet but they had £40 each-way and I had £20 each-way, we thought we’d won the jackpot with 50/1 (Tote paid £72.70) winner on our first time out.
“The horse didn't even know what was happening that day, he just got there and came through the field - it was all so easy for him; that didn’t surprise me.
Now making his debut over in Meydan, the son of La Pyle has come a long way since winning in his novice stakes races.
Muir affirmed: “I made a statement at the end of his two-year-old career to the owners, I said - if he’s a mile and a quarter horse he’ll win a Group Three, if he becomes a mile and a half horse he could well get to the very top.”
If Pyledriver can take out the Sheema Classic, he will definitely be considered to be at the very top of the racing rankings.