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Martin battling injury to re-unite with Pyledriver

By: Rolf Johnson   July 26 , 2022

Let`s knock the notion on the head that Pyledriver punched above his weight when winning the Group One King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last Saturday.

Because the five-year-old went into Britain`s second most important race after the Derby as the winner of just one Group One event and winner of only six of his seventeen races (debunkers ignoring placed form in the Sheema Classic in Dubai and in the Hong Kong Vase), he was sent off outsider of the field. He had the lowest official rating.

Moreover, in a field of six Pyledriver was up against: the Irish Derby winner; a Prix de l`Arc de Triomphe winner; an unlucky Oaks runner-up; a Royal Ascot Group One winner from Ballydoyle; and the British record stakes winner of £11.3m.

Against this array of talent from top stables, in twenty-one years with a licence trainer William Muir had sent out a single Group One winner, Pyledriver`s Coronation Cup last year. But then Pyledriver has been an ‘outsider` all his life. It was said that his origins were so humble that had he applied for entry to Ascot`s Royal Enclosure he wouldn`t have been allowed in! Such a slur hadn`t stopped him winning, behind epidemic closed doors, the King Edward VII Stakes at the 2020 Royal meeting.

Led out of the Sales ring as a foal unsold, not even for ‘buttons`, among those behind him in the King Edward was a £3.4m colt, Mogul.

Pyledriver been ignored, a 50-1 shot when successful on his two-year-old debut and he has started mostly at double figure odds ever since.

His sire Harbour Watch was almost a dud at stud and when his dam, La Pyle, came over from France where she had won a small race, she failed – as a hurdler.

Yet La Pyle comes from deep Aga Khan stock and in this last month her offspring – three-year-old colt Stockpyle, four-year-old filly Country Pyle and five-year-old Pyledriver all won. Their small-scale owner-breeders, dismayed at their initial failure in the market, are now in dreamland.

William Muir`s 50-strong stable is one people are happy to damn with faint praise as ‘unfashionable` – ‘unlikely` to cause upsets when they take on, only occasionally, the big battalions. All of which irritates the horse`s regular jockey Martin Dwyer, brother-in-law of the trainer.

“Pyledriver`s not bred sexily, but he`s well built, clean winded and an all-round genuine racehorse. William has done a great job with him, just as he would if he were given more numbers,” said Martin, currently side-lined through injury.

I asked Martin whether I should congratulate him for the stable`s good fortune or commiserate with him for his lack of it? The response was uncharacteristically gruff.

“I could hardly bear to watch. To be honest Rolf, I was gutted.”

During the time of enforced absence from the saddle Martin is in demand for TV punditry, with his usual irrepressible humour, laced with candour. Pyledriver`s previous Group One was over the course and distance where his limitations had seemed exposed – trailing behind Serpentine in Epsom`s 2020 Derby. But Martin defended his mount staunchly. “We got knocked over early in the Derby and he stumbled on the path across the course. It was a non-event. They were trying to say Westover (Irish Derby winner) was past the post before the gates opened at Ascot. I never saw ours as an underdog – the phrase gets my goat. At Group One level unless you`re a Frankel or a Sea The Stars nobody wins them all.”

For six months Martin won`t be winning anything, the severity of his knee injury in March sees to that.

“I`m throwing the kitchen sink at coming back,” he said vaguely optimistically. “The Breeders` Cup in late October is the carrot.”

Maybe commiserations to him were the order of the day but instead of biting his lip, reciting how glad he was for substitute jockey P J McDonald, and all concerned, Martin was, ultimately, positive about the future. When aren`t the sons of Liverpool annoyingly chirpy?

He conceded, only a little ruefully, that McDonald, whom he had recommended take the ride, was worth every penny of his percentage of the £708,875 first prize. When Martin was asked by an Indian journalist whether he missed the winners he could have been riding (for a pittance) on artificial surfaces through freezing English winters Martin, basking in welcoming Indian sunshine, replied: “It would take a lot of brass monkey nights at Wolverhampton to make what I did on In The Spotlight.”

Her victory in the 2012 Invitation Cup and Indian Derby for his friend Sadakshara Padmanabhan and Jamshed Appoo is still dear to his heart.

“Paddy ran her everywhere and she had so many strengths she made my job easy,” he said. “She`d have made ‘black type` in the UK.”

Still there`s got to be a longing about what might – should – have been. Triumph on Pyledriver would have rivalled his 2006 Derby victory on Sir Percy (which he also nearly missed through injury). Like all ‘Scousers` (Liverpudlian`s) Martin is never short of a quip. After that nerve jangling Derby success he accused Frankie Dettori of “tightening me up – he wanted to ride my horse as well as his!”

Dettori would have deputised on Pyledriver had he not been claimed for Emily Upjohn. She didn`t perform anything like the standard of her narrow Oaks defeat and, like Mishriff who blew the start for a second successive time at Ascot, and Westover, all of whom wore fashionable hoods to keep them calm, that didn`t do the job – most notably hot favourite Westover who boiled over.

Pyledriver`s King George runner-up, the Prix de l`Arc winner Torquator Tasso, will surely be better suited to the same soft ground come this October that he enjoyed when winning in Paris last year. Ascot, baking in the current heatwave, was very quick.

Torquator Tasso`s Arc price was a whole bigger shock - 72-1 - than Pyledriver`s starting price of 18-1, bookmaker odds once again were beaten by the Tote World Pool`s 19.80-1. Muir`s words that he thought he would win a fortnight ago after superlative work went largely ignored.

Martin is conscious of the seriousness of his injury.

“A leather snapped when I was riding on the gallops and the ligaments of my knee snapped when I hit the ground. They are using so many new techniques on me – a tourniquet stops the blood supply in my leg and lets my muscles do all the work.”

I asked what the odds were for his return? He joked: “They`d better be less than they`re giving Pyledriver for the Arc!”

Yes, once again, even after his King George & Queen Elizabeth heroics, Pyledriver remains an ‘outsider`.

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