Racing at the highest level is multi-million pound business with little room for sentiment or romance. But for as long as there are horses like Pyledriver, the joint-favourite for Saturday’s St Leger at Doncaster, there will always be moments when it feels like a sport again.
There are so many strands to Pyledriver’s story that it is difficult to know where to start. The first foal of a dam was bought to go jumping, his unfashionable pedigree left the buyers cold at Tattersalls in 2017 and the three friends who bred him bought him back for just 10,000gns. He ended up as one of around two dozen horses in training at William Muir’s stable near Hungerford, and when he went to the races for the first time, Pyledriver set off as a 50-1 shot.
Which is where the fun really starts. Showing impressive disdain for his starting price, Pyledriver was a comfortable winner. He has added three more wins from seven subsequent starts – and every success has been at a double-figure price. The King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot – at 18-1 The Great Voltigeur at York last time – 10-1. In fact, if he starts as favourite for Saturday’s Classic, it will be the first time in his eight-race career. A £1 bet on Pyledriver in every race so far would currently be £88 in profit.
“The owners aren’t big gamblers,” Muir said on Friday, “but I think they’ve had a little bit on him every time he’s run. They got 66-1 first time out. He’s from a smaller, more unfashionable yard for the races he was running in and it’s more of the norm that the bigger stables win them. If he’d been trained by John Gosden or Aidan O’Brien, he wouldn’t have been 66-1 first time.”
Betting winnings are small change, though, compared to the “very big money” that Pyledriver’s owners have been offered to part with him. Every bid has been declined, in part because the proceeds would need to be split three ways but also because there are several more foals out of his dam, La Pyle, in the pipeline.
“We don’t go to the races thinking if this gets beat, it’s all doom and gloom,” Muir says. “It’s not looking at it as a business proposition. We go on to the next race and we learn something. Win, lose or draw on Saturday, he’ll stay in training next season. He’s there for racing, and we’ll have a lot of fun with him, all round the world.”
It is an attitude that might already have made a Pyledriver a “people’s horse” – if there were only some people at the track to take him to their hearts. Whether they have backed him or not, however, there will be few among the bumper TV audience for Saturday’s Classic who would not get a buzz from seeing him win, for a trainer who has yet to saddle the winner of a Group One, never mind a Classic.
“A Classic winner is what we’re all trying to get,” Muir says. “If you’re a trainer or a jockey, it’s the pinnacle of what you’re trying to do, to get to the very top. We know we’re capable of training horses at the top level, it’s just a question of finding and getting them.
“I hope people get hold of him and love him. He had an unfashionable stallion and no-one even got him out to look at when he went to the sales, but he’s gorgeous. He’s got presence and grace and he goes around with his ears pricked. For us, in a small yard, it would be sensational.”