June 7, 2023

Pyledriver upsets King George VI & Queen Elizabeth, earns Breeders’ Cup Turf spot

Pyledriver pictured training at Meydan in March (Photo by Dubai Racing Club)

The clash of generations in Saturday’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) turned out to be a mismatch, as 18-1 longshot Pyledriver led home a clean sweep for the older brigade at Ascot. Underestimated after a well-beaten second in his Coronation Cup (G1) title defense, the five-year-old veteran was 2 3/4 lengths clear of another overlay, the 16-1 Torquator Tasso, with eight lengths back to slow-starting Mishriff in third.

Favored three-year-old Westover flopped in fifth, beating only fellow sophomore Emily Upjohn. Although the filly was never in contention, Westover was overeager on the front end.

Unlike his Irish Derby (G1) romp at the Curragh, where he tracked the pacesetter, Westover grabbed the early lead from Broome and Pyledriver. Broome initially let him go, but then made a middle move to press an already-keen Westover. The handwriting was on the wall as they expended too much energy at the wrong stage of the race.

Pyledriver, in contrast, was cruising in a garden-trip third. Well handled by P.J. McDonald, who was taking over for the sidelined Martin Dwyer, Pyledriver broke alertly. But once Broome, the expected leader, and then Westover signaled intent, McDonald eased his mount out of the fray.

Turning for home, Broome put away the spent Westover, only to have a fresh Pyledriver pounce. The Willie Muir and Chris Grassick trainee bounded clear, and despite not maintaining a straight path, crossed the wire with daylight to spare.

“I knew he would win a fortnight ago,” Muir said. “This is the horse you just dream of. People can knock him, but this is a champion. 

“I knew he was good. I was disappointed last time in the Coronation Cup because I feel they went a sedate pace and it turned into a sprint race. This horse loves an end-to-end gallop.

“I’ve been in the game a long time and I could probably cry. I’m not a crier but I feel very emotional. This is everything.”

Torquator Tasso, last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) upsetter on heavy going, adapted to the good-to-firm conditions here in a respectable second. Reserved further off the pace, the German shipper followed Pyledriver into the stretch and tried mightily to close. Torquator Tasso couldn’t make much of a dent on the winner, but he was far ahead of the rest.

Mishriff, the 5-2 second choice, virtually lost all chance when caught napping at the break and spotting the field a considerable head start. While he eventually worked his way into the mix down the lane, Mishriff flattened out in a distant third.

Broome paid the price for his exertions in fourth, replicating his result in last year’s King George. Westover checked in a further six lengths adrift, trailed by Emily Upjohn an additional seven lengths back.

Pyledriver clocked 1 1/2 miles in 2:29.49 in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

Muir was not speculating about his fall program beyond the Arc.

“He is going to the Arc,” Muir said. “We made the plan last year – Coronation, King George, Arc.”

Connections have ventured abroad with him before, and in two of three foreign sorties, he ran right up to form. Runner-up to Japan’s Glory Vase in the Dec. 12 Hong Kong Vase (G1), Pyledriver was compromised by post 14 in the Neom Turf Cup (G3) on Saudi Cup Day and tired to 11th. He delivered a more representative effort next time in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night, albeit in a traffic-ridden fourth.

The British-bred’s best days, however, have come in his homeland, where he has a habit of outperforming his odds. An 18-1 upsetter of the 2020 King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot, Pyledriver scored at 10-1 in the Great Voltigeur (G2) and at 8-1 in the 2021 Coronation Cup (G1). He was favored to repeat in that Epsom prize on June 3, but wound up finishing 4 1/4 lengths behind Hukum. Pyledriver’s other major placings include the 2020 St Leger (G1) and 2021 Jockey Club (G2).

His King George victory sparks a what-if. Pyledriver had been in career form when targeting last summer’s edition, until injury ruled him out. Had he competed a year ago as planned, how might he have fared against the victorious Adayar? Mishriff was second that day, but his poor start here makes a comparison untenable.

A homebred for the La Pyle Partnership – an allusion to his dam – Pyledriver is by Harbour Watch. The Le Havre mare La Pyle is a full sister to Group 3 winner Normandel and a half-sister to 2016 Grand Prix de Paris (G1) hero Mont Ormel, later Group 3-placed in Hong Kong under the name of Helene Charisma.

Pyledriver might have ended up abroad as well, had his owners accepted any of the lucrative offers for the bay. But brothers Guy and Huw Leach and friend Roger Devlin have kept him ever since he RNA’d for about $14,000 as a Tattersalls December weanling, and the overachiever has bankrolled more than $2.3 million.

“He is a beast when he’s ready, and I knew he was ready,” Muir said. “We’re a small yard and to get a horse like this is just what you dream of.”