Can the horse that no one wanted win the Derby? His sire never ran further than six furlongs and his dam finished 74 lengths behind in last but Willie Muir is dreaming of Pyledriver glory
- Pyledriver will be the first Derby runner Muir has had in a 30-year training career
- The colt will be ridden by son-in-law Martin Dwyer at Epsom next Saturday
- He would be a hugely appropriate winner in this coronavirus-disrupted season
‘We had a plan but it went out of the window,’ says trainer Willie Muir as he describes the path his colt Pyledriver has pursued to the Investec Derby at Epsom.
Behind the words is a story that would make Pyledriver a hugely appropriate winner of the most prestigious Flat race of this coronavirus-disrupted season next Saturday.
For one, Pyledriver, the first Derby runner Muir has had in a 30-year training career, would not have been in the Classic had it been run on its original date of June 6.
Pyledriver will be the first Derby runner Willie Muir has had in a 30-year training career
Muir initially had other targets in mind as he planned for a conventional season. The normal method of entry for a contender like him — Pyledriver was late into the Derby picture with an emphatic win in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot — would also have involved a prohibitive £85,000 supplementary entry fee.
Entering Pyledriver in the Derby as a yearling — a policy followed by most of the big owner-breeder operations — would have looked like a move soaked in misplaced optimism.
His sire Harbour Watch, fee £6,000, ran just three times as a two-year-old and never further than six furlongs before injury ended his career. He retired from stallion duties in 2017 because of arthritis.
Pyledriver will be ridden by son-in-law Martin Dwyer (above) in the Derby next Saturday
His dam La Pyle was bought with a hurdling career in mind but in four runs over hurdles for trainer Philip Hobbs, she barely beat a rival. In her last run, wearing blinkers and a hood, she was beaten 74 lengths when last of four at Fontwell.
But the blend of her stamina and Harbour Watch’s speed have proved a potent combination.
Pedigree experts may be scratching their heads and potential buyers were indifferent when Pyledriver was offered for sale as a foal, his £10,000 reserve proving irrelevant.
The horse no one wanted has proved a surprise package since owners, golfing pals Guy and Hugh Leach and Roger Devlin, put him into training with Muir in Lambourn. Muir believes he saw something different in Pyledriver from day one.
He says: ‘He was stunning when he arrived. His work was always very good. He was 50-1 when he won on his Salisbury debut. There were some nice horses in the race but I said, “boys, none of us are gamblers, but we should not let him run at the price. It’s a gift”. We all had £20 eachway at 66-1.
Pyledriver is out to win the most prestigious Flat race of this coronavirus-disrupted season
‘I wasn’t the greatest cricketer but loved it and tried my hardest. But you can see some people pick a bat up and be able to knock it anywhere straightaway. They are naturals and it is the same with some horses. Every time you ask them to do something they do.’
Apart from a disappointing run in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket, which was anticipated by Muir because a growth spurt had left the colt weak, Pyledriver has answered the questions.
As he has, increasingly tempting offers have arrived to sell but all have been rejected. Muir has gone close to success at the highest Group One level but never hit the bullseye.
Derby success would be even sweeter given Pyledriver will be ridden by son-in-law Martin Dwyer, who won the 2006 running on Sir Percy.
For the hard-working Muir, who looks nowhere near his 62 years, it would be a boost at a time when he says surviving in the training business is getting tougher by the season even without Covid-19.
His Linkslade stable, which was derelict when he arrived in 1993 after being trashed by New Age squatters before he lovingly restored them, has been on the market for three years.
Muir added: ‘It’s tough to survive. I have just about 30 horses in a 65-box yard and I am working harder and harder. We’re just keeping our heads above water.
‘You are either fashionable or you’re not as a trainer. The only way I can survive is grafting.’
When Pyledriver was second on his Kempton comeback earlier this month, it was Muir who drove him to the track in the horsebox.
One of his team will do that on Saturday, allowing him to drive to the track hoping for a fairy-tale win for the 16-1 chance.
Muir added: ‘Through the winter I told the owners if Pyledriver was a miler he would win a Listed race. If he got a mile and a quarter, he might win a Group Two or Three race. But if he got a mile and a half, he could be anything.’
Even a Derby winner? Muir is hoping so.