Pyledriver plans unchanged despite King George eclipse

By Sports Desk July 31, 2023

The Juddmonte International and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe remain on the agenda for Pyledriver after finishing fifth in defence of his King George crown at Ascot on Saturday.

Following a successful return from 11 months on the sidelines in the Hardwicke Stakes at the Royal meeting in June, hopes were high ahead of William Muir and Chris Grassick’s stable star’s bid for back-to-back wins in a spectacular renewal of the track’s midsummer highlight.

Pyledriver ultimately came up short, beaten just under nine lengths into fifth place as Hukum denied Westover in a thrilling finish, but Muir is far from downbeat.

“It was a great race and I’m not going to change my opinion, he’s going to go for the same races we had targeted for him before Saturday,” he said.

“Don’t take anything away from the winner and the second because they ran great races. PJ (McDonald, jockey) said if he had a perfect run he could have been a little bit closer, but that was all.

“I said before the race the worst thing that can happen is we get beat and we’ll go on and go forwards.

“The best sportsmen in the world have been beaten before now and they come back again. He’s fine, he’s in good shape and took his race lovely, so that is all we need.

“It’s the same plan as it was – he’ll go for the Juddmonte International or the September Stakes, but I would think probably the Juddmonte, then the Arc.”

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    Owner Julie Wood is dreaming of Derby glory with Voyage after seeing her patience being rewarded with a debut victory in the Darley Novice Stakes at Newbury.

    Sent off a relatively unconsidered 28-1 chance and seemingly the second string of Richard Hannon behind Sam Hawkens, Voyage travelled like a dream for Pat Dobbs.

    While all his rivals were under pressure entering the final furlong, Dobbs was sat motionless at the head of the pincer movement.

    The worry was, having travelled so well up to that point, what would he find under pressure? The answer was plenty, as while several made ground from the rear, including Harry Charlton’s Vanish, he could only close to within a length and three-quarters.

    “Julie was right by giving the horse a lot of time last year and we brought him here to do a piece of work after the last National Hunt meeting and he worked OK there, but was a bit keen,” said Hannon.

    “I liked the horse that finished fifth (Sam Hawkens) a lot and this is not a complete surprise, as he’s shown plenty, but you know what Julie is like, she likes to have a go at the big ones.”

    Wood said: “You never know what you have until you ask them, you never know what you’re sitting on.

    “I wasn’t worried about the soft ground, but we were just a bit worried about him settling and he still seemed to be finding plenty at the end of the race and Pat didn’t really need to get serious with him, he just pushed him out and the horse changed legs and he was off.

    “I have always had a dream of having a horse good enough to line up in the Derby and maybe this is it? To come here today and win in that going is a good effort and Pat rode him really well.

    “It’s great to be back at Newbury and to have a horse come up the straight like that against some quality, well-bred animals is really something.

    “It’s my 24th year with Richard and I’m still enjoying it, still as fresh as ever. Every season you have new hope and however the dice roll, we’re there to play them and we’ll enjoy every moment.

    “I don’t know whether we go straight to the Derby and obviously we need to get a minimum rating to run in the Derby, which he might get after today’s performance.

    “We will see how he comes out of today, we have enough time to do something (a trial) but we haven’t entered him anything – today was the aim and the Derby was the hope.”

    Royal Ascot could beckon for Hannon’s Hawaiian following a smooth winning debut in the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup EBF Maiden Stakes.

    A field of eight unraced juveniles lined up from some of the biggest yards in the country, with Hannon’s Kodiac colt sent off the 11-8 favourite.

    Sean Levey was always in command on Sheikh Mohammed Obaid’s homebred, and while the winning distance over Clive Cox’s Star Anthem was only a neck, he never truly looked in any danger of being beaten.

    Fresh from winning the Craven Stakes with Haatem on Thursday, Hannon clearly has his string in good order at this early stage of the season.

    “He did a bit of work at Kempton and I thought it was a little bit too good to be true,” said Hannon.

    “He’s done everything so easily at home, he hasn’t learned anything and he might have just learned something today.

    “Sean said if he had made the running, it might have made it easier, but we think a fair bit of him and he’s a fast horse who we will stick to five furlongs with at the moment.

    “It’s a bit early doors to be talking about Royal Ascot, but we might look at a Lily Agnes or something on the way. He will need one more run before Ascot just to be sure.

    “He’s very fast, knows his job and that will do him good. I hope he is an Ascot horse and he travelled great. That experience under his belt will do him good and I think he will improve a lot from that, like all ours do.”

  • Skelton relying on Sud missile to strike crucial blow Skelton relying on Sud missile to strike crucial blow

    Dan Skelton is banking on a big run from L’Eau Du Sud in the Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle to keep him in with a chance of claiming a first trainers’ title.

    Runner-up in two of the most competitive handicaps of the season, the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, the six-year-old has been aimed at this ever since.

    Cheltenham week went swimmingly for Skelton and co-owners Sir Alex Ferguson and John Hales, but the feeling was L’Eau Du Sud was mugged by the Willie Mullins-trained Ebor winner Absurde.

    “He’s in good order and this is the race we’ve had in mind since Cheltenham, when he was second in the County Hurdle,” said Skelton.

    “That was a very good run considering Absurde came from nowhere and showed great Flat speed late on.

    “The ground will be perfect for him, the track is no issue, he travels very well and I’d say he’s a very big player, but the prices reflect that.

    “If we’ve any chance of overhauling Willie, we need L’Eau Du Sud to figure pretty well, to be honest.

    “It looked like we had it won at Cheltenham, but (Paul) Townend had different ideas and used all the Flat speed, so fair play to them, they picked up on the day but we’ll be looking to collect on Saturday.”

    Skelton is battling with his old boss Paul Nicholls and Irish champion trainer Mullins, who runs Westport Cove, Bialystok and Alvaniy.

    His son and assistant Patrick feels the middle one of that trio may be their best chance.

    “Westport Cove is a horse with an awful lot of ability, but he’s a very difficult ride. At Cheltenham, he lost his head and my big worry is that it’s probably too big a field for him, as he has to be dropped out, which is hard to do in a big-field handicap like that,” he said on a Zoom call with the track.

    “Bialystok is a Flat-bred horse who I could see winning on the Flat in the summer. There’s a race in this fella. He was unlucky at the DRF, when he got brought down at the second last, and it didn’t happen for him at Cheltenham. If the ground isn’t too soft, he’ll have his chance.

    “We also run Alvaniy, who is 8lb out of the handicap but he’s a horse I definitely think is better than his mark. While it will be difficult from 8lb out of the weights, he’s a horse that could pick up place money. There’s a big race in him, but it won’t be easy from out of the handicap.”

    Nicholls runs last year’s winner Rubaud off top weight and Afadil.

    “Rubaud won this race stylishly last year off a mark of 135 on good ground and has a much harder task this time off 148,” Nicholls told Betfair.

    “I don’t think he was right when he ran below par last time on heavy ground at Wincanton. He seems in a good place at the moment but I’d say he has it all to do off top weight on ground that is softer than he prefers.

    “Afadil been running at the top of his form this spring and comes here a week after finishing third in a competitive race at Aintree, despite losing ground after a standing start.

    “With Freddie Gingell claiming a handy 5lb, Afadil has a lovely light weight of only 10st 3lb and has a sporting each-way chance.”

  • Mullins looking to hit title rivals for six in Scottish National Mullins looking to hit title rivals for six in Scottish National

    With the British trainers’ title on the line, Willie Mullins sends a six-strong squad to contest the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday.

    Mullins is not only seeking his first win in the £200,000 feature, he has never had a single winner at the track. But that could all change this weekend, as he saddles 18 runners across the afternoon.

    His National team consists of Macdermott, Mr Incredible, Spanish Harlem, Ontheropes, Klarc Kent and We’llhavewan and assistant trainer Patrick Mullins ran the rule over the sextet in a Zoom call organised by the racecourse.

    “Macdermott is an improving horse, he was always going to be a big chaser, he’s a strong type and was always going to improve for a fence and over a trip,” he said.

    “He was good the last time out at Fairyhouse and he’s the kind of horse who improves with racing, we struggle to get him fit at home, to be honest, he needs racing to get the weight off him.

    “He’s running off a much higher mark (12lb) and that’s going to be a big ask in a far more competitive race.

    “I ride Mr Incredible, he didn’t get very far at Aintree, he’s fresh and well, so he’ll take his chance.

    “Off a mark of 153, with 11st 9lb, it’s going to be difficult but if he could run into a place, that would be fantastic. We’re hoping he jumps off, that’s the first thing!

    “Paul (Townend) was keen to ride Spanish Harlem and he’s a horse we’ve always thought an awful lot of. He has disappointed us a little because his work at home has been far superior to his form on the track.

    “It’s his first handicap, so he’ll have to jump pretty sharp, but we’d like to think he’s better than a mark of 140. Paul just thought he had more room for improvement than Macdermott.

    “Sean O’Keeffe rides Klarc Kent, very much an old-fashioned chaser, a horse who really should come into his own over four miles. He’s a novice off a low weight but he needs to improve.

    “Brian Hayes rides Ontheropes. He got a leg after he won the Munster National and has been disappointing since but he was coming back to form last time and could be just coming to form at the right time.

    “We’llhavewan was second in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown and ran well in the Irish National when perhaps he didn’t get home, but I think he just made some crucial jumping errors which just knocked him back.

    “We’ve put the cheekpieces back on and that should help him jump sharper. He’s a little out of the handicap but Kieran Callaghan is our claiming rider, a local guy and he’s very good. I could see him running into the money.”

    Dan Skelton is battling with Mullins for the title and is represented by Ballygrifincottage.

    “He’s a horse that just recently has done really well. He had a bad autumn and winter but his form as a novice hurdler and early novice chaser looked very good,” said Skelton.

    “For whatever reason, we lost him completely and everything just went to pot but he’s back in great form now and it was a good run at Ascot on his comeback and an even better run at Sandown when second the last day.

    “I don’t think four miles will be a problem, but you never actually know until you try it – there is a slight unknown with that, but I go into it with the expectation that he’ll stay the trip.”

    Trying to cling on to his title is Paul Nicholls, who runs top-weight Stay Away Fay and Broken Halo.

    Nicholls told Betfair of the former: “He’s a class horse but life isn’t going to be easy for him running off top weight of 12st off a mark of 158.

    “It just didn’t happen for him in the Turners at Cheltenham, where he was never happy, didn’t travel in the ground and his jumping let him down.

    “We’ve removed the cheekpieces he wore there, as they didn’t seem to work, and I’ve felt for some time he would be suited by marathon trips. The track at Ayr should be much more suitable for him.

    “Broken Halo was in with a shout when falling two out in the London National at Sandown in December and won at Taunton last month. He looks an interesting outsider.”

    Brian Ellison’s Anglers Crag arrives chasing a five-timer and proved his stamina when winning the Eider Chase.

    “This has been the plan since the Eider and he’s in good form. He’s been blood tested and scoped, everything looks clean and he looks a million dollars, so we just want a bit of luck in running now,” said Ellison.

    “A bit of soft ground would help keep the job right for him. He’s gone up again in the weights, but you deserve to when you win, don’t you? It’s when you finish second and you go up that I don’t like!

    “Willie Mullins obviously runs six, he’s struggling for winners!”

    The form choice is arguably Jamie Snowden’s Git Maker, second to subsequent Grade One winner Inothewayurthinkin at Cheltenham.

    “He ran a blinder to finish second at Cheltenham, pulling a long way clear of the third horse, and the winner has obviously come out and won a Grade One at Aintree, so the form has certainly been franked,” said Snowden.

    “We’re up 1lb for that and we go there in good form. Obviously, it’s a highly competitive race, as you’d expect, but we couldn’t be happier with our chap and he gets in off 10st 3lb.

    “I think he’ll stay well. They’ve had a bit of rain there and you would certainly hope the ground would be on the softer side, as he would definitely want a bit of cut in the ground.

    “With a little bit of luck in running, hopefully he’ll have a chance.”

    Emma Lavelle’s My Silver Lining has been consistent in long-distance chases all season, winning the Classic Chase at Warwick.

    “She seems in great order. I was sort of looking for reasons not to go – was she flat, or was the ground not soft enough, or whatever, and none of the reasons came,” said Lavelle.

    “I’m really happy with her, of course it’s a competitive race and with the championship the way it is, it’s probably more competitive than some years, but she’s really well, she’s as honest as they come, she’ll keep galloping and jumping and we’re just hopeful that she’ll put up another personal best.”

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