Seven Days: A Big, Big Moment

PJ McDonald and Babu Singh celebrate Pyledriver's biggest victory |


An unusually quiet Sunday on the European circuit allows a pause before the meeting that should only ever be referred to as Glorious Goodwood, and also some reflection on a truly special result at Ascot on Saturday afternoon. William Muir, a baby-faced veteran of the training ranks who now shares his licence with Chris Grassick, assessed the greatest win of his 30-year training career as “a big, big moment”, and he deserves to enjoy that moment for days and weeks to come. 

By now, the story of Pyledriver (GB) (Harbour Watch {Ire}) is a familiar one. Bred by brothers Guy and Hugh Leach with their friend Roger Devlin, and on the advice of the much-missed Kevin Mercer, at whose Usk Valley Stud the 5-year-old was born, Pyledriver has grafted his way into the public's affection. Buying him back at the foal sales for 10,000gns was in hindsight the best decision the owner-breeders have ever made as Pyledriver's earnings are now knocking on the door of £2 million.

Despite this being an industry wrought with financial interest and concerns, in many ways money can't buy that feeling of having a horse good enough to turn up on the big days and drag you joyously to the winner's circle on the wisps of his tail.

At Epsom, at York, and at Ascot, at the Royal Meeting and now the King George, the bonny, dark bay Pyledriver has taken his connections for spins on the merriest of merry-go-rounds, not to mention putting in some creditable performances in defeat overseas in Hong Kong and Dubai.

We are also the lucky ones to be able to see Pyledriver in action at the age of five. Of course thoughts turn to a stallion career after a race like the King George, and had Westover not pulled so hard and instead had seen out his race in the imperious manner in which he won the Irish Derby, few would now question his stallion credentials. Pyledriver will be a harder sell, and his connections are all too aware of this fact. At Epsom after his Coronation Cup win last year, Roger Devlin told the TDN, “We thought [Pyledriver] would improve as a 4-year-old. He's fairly modestly bred, like the owners, and we didn't think he had huge stallion potential so it was important for us to get the Group 1 on his CV. That's job done.”

That Pyledriver keeps doing his job so well is all that any of his team should focus on for now. Horses are a long time retired, and every moment of those precious few seasons on the track should be savoured, especially a big, big moment like winning the King George. 

Pyledriver's Not So Modest Origins

In one of the special 3-year-olds of the season, the Prix du Jockey Club and Coral-Eclipse winner Vadeni (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}), we have seen how the Aga Khan Studs reaped the benefit of the purchase and gradual assimilation of the stock of Jean-Luc Lagardere in 2005. 

Roger Devlin may have jokingly referred to Pyledriver as being “modestly bred like his owners” but he too has roots in the Aga Khan's breeding operation through another of the operation's key purchases, in this case the 144 horses acquired from the breeding empire of Marcel Boussac in 1978.

Pyledriver's sixth dam Licara (Fr) (Caro {Ire}) was among that group as a yearling and, more than 40 years later, her descendants continue to be successful for a range of breeders. Sylvain Vidal bought Pyledriver's Aga Khan-bred grand-dam Lidana (Ire) (King's Best) for Gerard Augustin-Normand for 140,000gns as a 4-year-old at Tattersalls. For Augustin-Normand she produced the Group 1 winner Mont Ormel (Fr) (Air Chief Marshal {Ire}) and Listed winner Normandel (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}), who went on to win the G3 Park Express S. for Ballylinch Stud and is now in their broodmare band, with her eldest offspring being a 2-year-old daughter of Lope De Vega (Ire).

Le Havre, a great grandson of Blushing Groom, sadly died earlier this year, but he really does have the potential to become a posthumous force as a broodmare sire. Normandel has yet to prove herself but her full-sister La Pyle (Fr), the dam of Pyledriver, is well on her way. She won twice on the Flat and was then tried unsuccessfully over hurdles before retiring to Usk Valley Stud. Now 11, she has three winners from her three runners, with the amusingly named juvenile Shagpyle (GB) (Frankel {GB}) still to race for her from the same stable as Pyledriver. 

Another of Lidana's daughters, Lillebonne (Fr) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}), whom she has been carrying when bought by Vidal, won twice in the French provinces and is also now enjoying a fruitful broodmare career as the dam of six winners from six runners, including three black-type performers. They include Isaac Souede and Simon Munir's recent Group 2 runner-up, the 3-year-old Seisai (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}), while the mare's 2-year-old Thornbrook (Ire) (Saxon Warrior {Jpn}), bred by Peter Henley, John Connolly and Pattern Bloodstock, won well on debut earlier this month. 

Clearly it is a family still full of running, exemplified in fine fashion by Pyledriver's emphatic win over the Arc hero Torquator Tasso (Ger) (Adlerflug {Ger}) and a classy supporting cast at Ascot.

Godolphin's Next Classic Contenders? 

The dust has not quite settled on the current Classic season, with the St Leger still to be run, but thoughts and bookmakers' quotes are already turning to next spring. Earlier this season Charlie Appleby would have hoped to have been at Ascot on Saturday with Adayar (Ire) to defend his King George crown, and perhaps to have been double-handed in the race with Hurricane Lane (Ire). With one sidelined and the other having a lacklustre season so far, the Godolphin trainer could instead look to the future with a pair of colts posting performances on Saturday that could see them step into the illustrious Classic shoes of that pair, or of this year's stars Coroebus (Ire), Native Trail (GB) and Modern Games (Ire).

Appleby won last year's Listed Pat Eddery S. with Modern Science (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}), who had subsequent Group 1 winners Angel Bleu (Fr) (Dark Angel {Ire}) and Cachet (Ire) (Aclaim {Ire}) behind him that day. This year the race was won easily by Godolphin homebred Naval Power (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}), who is now unbeaten in three starts. Earlier at Newmarket, the Appleby-trained Highbank (GB) (Kingman {GB}), bred by Lynch-Bages and Camas Park Stud, became the latest TDN Rising Star with his similarly eye-catching debut. 

The name Blandford Bloodstock can be found against the purchases of the dams of both Naval Power and Highbank but in quite contrasting circumstances. Highbank's dam Bristol Bay (Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}) was bought for 400,000gns from Ballylinch Stud/Gestut Ammerland when carrying a full-sister to her Ammerland-bred Listed winner Bay Of Poets (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}).

Naval Power's dam Emirates Rewards (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) went through the ring last November at Goffs and was bought by Richard Brown on behalf of Simon Sweeting's Overbury Stud for €18,000. She is now in foal to Overbury's young sire Ardad (Ire).

An even bigger bargain was found just two weeks ago at Tattersalls when Naval Power's 4-year-old half-sister Late Morning (Ire) (Dawn Approach {Ire}) was sold to Sami Racing for 2,200gns. There could well be further black-type updates to come. 

Young Guard in the Vanguard

While Ralph Beckett would have been disappointed with Westover's run in the King George, his stable started the day well at Ascot on Saturday when emerging star Lezoo (GB) got back on the winning trail in the G3 Princess Margaret Keeneland S. She has now won three of her four starts for Marc Chan and Andrew Rosen, and arguably should be unbeaten, having been hampered in the closing stages of the G2 Duchess of Cambridge S. by the eventual winner Mawj (Ire) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}).

Importantly now Lezoo is a group winner, having become the first northern hemisphere stakes winner for her sire Zoustar {Aus}) at Newmarket in June. The race also provided another boost in a good season for Chasemore Farm, who bred Lezoo, and also had their own colours carried to third place on the homebred Breege (GB) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}). 

It was a good week for a number of freshman sires. Havana Grey (GB), still romping ahead and now on 28 individual winners, including three on Saturday, notched his first listed winner. That came via the enterprising young trainer Alice Haynes, who took Lady Hollywood (GB) to Naas to plunder the Marwell S., the filly's third win in a row from five starts. Compiling a similarly impressive strike-rate is Havana Grey's Star Of Lady M (GB), who won her fourth race in six starts at Musselburgh last week. Their sire is not just top of the freshman sires but is currently the leading sire of juveniles in Europe ahead of No Nay Never, who is enjoying his own good season. Admittedly, Eddie's Boy's pot for winning the Weatherbys Super Sprint has helped to push Havana Grey narrowly ahead on prize-money, but his nearest challenger on individual winners is Kodiac (GB) on 20. And it is easy to see where this brand of hardy precocity comes from because by the time Havana Grey arrived at Goodwood this week five years ago to win the G3 Molecomb S. on a relentlessly rainy day, he had already run five times and bagged two Listed victories as well as a novice success. 

Cracksman (GB) continues to be the delight of the freshman sire ranks (to this observer at least) and his highly promising start of eight winners from just 12 winners was augmented on Thursday by the victory of the unbeaten Dance In The Grass (GB) in the Listed Star S. at Sandown. She was bought at Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Sale from her breeders Anne Dalgety and Willie Carson for 57,000gns by trainers Charlie and Mark Johnston. And in case you missed Brian Sheerin's fascinating interview in last week's TDN with Mark Johnston on his approach to buying yearlings and more, it is worth pouring yourself another cup of coffee, clicking this link, and having a good read. 

Dance In The Grass continues a good run for the family of Shadow Dancing (GB) (Unfuwain), who was also bred by Carson with his former boss Major Dick Hern, who died just a month before she finished third in the Oaks of 2002, trained by his former assistant Marcus Tregoning and running for a syndicate led by Anne Dalgety. Shadow Dancing is now the dam of five winners, the best of them being Dance In The Grass's dam Dance The Dream (GB) (Sir Percy {GB}). But in another division the family has also been represented by one of the stand-out juvenile hurdlers of last season, the Aintree Grade 1 winner Knight Salute (GB), who is Dance The Dream's full-brother. 

Good News First, Then The Bad News

In this column, we prefer to reflect on all that is good about racing, particularly cheering the winning breeders for whom a big-race success can often be earned on the back of hard-luck stories and heartbreak along the way. A winner, however small, can do so much to lift the spirits and protect one to a degree from the bad news that we know will be lurking round a corner  wherever horses are concerned. 

In the realms of the big breeders, we can enjoy the fact that dear old Galileo (Ire) potentially has at least a couple of corkers for the 2023 Classic season in the form of G3 Tyros S. winner Proud And Regal (Ire) and the well-related Tower Of London (Ire), who had my discerning colleague Tom Frary conjuring up comparisons to Camelot (GB) when awarding the full-brother to Capri (Ire) a TDN Rising Star. 

Incidentally, I'm not sure if it has been done before, but Ryan Moore rode two Rising Stars in two countries on Thursday as five hours earlier at Sandown he had been aboard the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Juddmonte homebred Nostrum (GB) (Kingman {GB}). If people still used notebooks then his name would have been writ large in many, and on the same page as Coolmore's Tower Of London.

Now, having acknowledged the good stuff (and there has been much, much more on that front that should have been mentioned), I am afraid that this column has to end on a more negative vibe.

Last week we touched on the comments by American trainer Phil D'Amato, notably his view that the bloodstock market in this part of the world is “ripe for plunder”. That same weekend Chad Brown won the GI Diana S. with In Italian (GB), one of five European-bred runners in a field of six.

On Saturday night, D'Amato's words echoed across Del Mar, where he won the GII San Clemente S. with Bellabel (Ire) (Belardo {Ire}), who was bought privately from Jessica Harrington's stable with a mark of 83 following a nursery handicap win at Naas last autumn. In California, Bellabel led home an Irish-bred trifecta, and five other British- and Irish-bred horses featured among the 12 runners. 

There is no doubt that international buyers are a vitally important aspect of our bloodstock market, and British and Irish breeders can rightly pride themselves on the fact that our horses are among the most coveted and successful in the world. But, fewer breeders now ever intend to put a saddle on a horse's back in this part of the world unless they absolutely have to, preferring instead to play the equine stock market in the sale ring. And that comes down to one thing: poor prize-money. 

It is now of the utmost importance that the racecourses and bookmakers who benefit financially from the important standing which British racing especially still enjoys internationally, start putting their hands deeper into their pockets to ensure that that is not lost. Currently, away from those high days provided by the likes of the plucky Pyledriver, it is hard to look upon the sport without an encroaching sense of doom. 

While we stagnate, other nations without the solid breeding programmes behind them that we have, are increasing their racing programmes hand in hand with the offer of lucrative prize-money. This only drives the demand for horses from this part of the world, with even moderate maiden winners now subject to rapid offers from abroad. When their owners look at what they could continue to win in Britain, it is hard to turn those offers down, and though that money may well be ploughed back into buying more horses, how long can we continue selling our own dreams?

Presently, every thoroughbred that leaves these shores is contributing to the crumbling of the foundations of a great racing nation that will eventually topple. That we have a governing body seemingly content to fiddle with side projects while the only topic that truly matters to the future of British racing is left consistently unaddressed is a cause for deep concern. 

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