Pyledriver out to join racing greats as a dual King George winner

William Muir is confident Pyledriver will not give up his crown without a fight in a mouthwatering renewal of the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes.

The six-year-old produced one of the most popular results of last season when downing several supposed bigger guns in Ascot’s midsummer highlight, his second Group One win after the 2021 Coronation Cup.

Niggling injuries meant he missed the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and plans for subsequent foreign jaunts to Japan, Hong Kong and Dubai were shelved – but he proved he has lost none of his talent after 11 months on the sidelines by adding the Hardwicke Stakes to his big-race tally at Royal Ascot last month.

Despite the positives, the defending champion is only fifth in the betting for his return to Berkshire. Muir, though, feels anyone who underestimates Pyledriver does so at their peril.

“It’s a very good race and it’s great to be part of it. Everything has been great since the Hardwicke and we’re looking forward to it,” said Muir.

“We’re not worried about the ground and this is what we all live for, to have horses going for these type of races at these type of places.

“They’ve all got great credentials, they’re all horses that have been out and proved themselves this year. They’re all there to go and have a go.

“We’ll go there and run our race and see how good everyone else is.”

Another older horse with excellent credentials is the Owen Burrows-trained Hukum.

Like Pyledriver, the Shadwell-owned entire has returned from injury this season – beating last year’s Derby hero Desert Crown in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown in May.

Having since sidestepped a clash with Pyledriver in the Hardwicke due to unsuitable ground, connections are thrilled rain has arrived and are hoping for a bold showing on Saturday.

Angus Gold, racing manager for owners Shadwell, said: “It looks a fabulous race, let’s hope it lives up to its billing.

“As far as I know, touch wood, Hukum is in good shape and the ground has come right for him. Now it’s just a question of getting luck in running and whether he’s good enough.

“We’ve obviously won the King George before with Taghrooda (2014) and Nashwan (1989) and it’s always been a huge race. It was the most important race of the summer when I was growing up and people of my generation still consider it a very important race, so it’s lovely to have a horse in with a chance.”

The two three-year-olds in the field are Auguste Rodin and King Of Steel, who were split by only half a length when first and second in the Derby at Epsom last month.

Aidan O’Brien’s Auguste Rodin has since become a dual Derby winner at the Curragh, while Roger Varian’s King Of Steel outclassed his rivals in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Varian is looking forward to the rematch, saying: “We’re excited. He’s training nicely and looks great, he’s ready to go.

“I hope that’s he adaptable (ground-wise), we’ll find out on Saturday.”

John Gosden has saddled five winners of the King George, with the triumphs of Nathaniel (2011) and Taghrooda (2014) following by three victories for the remarkable Enable in 2017, plus 2019 and 2020.

This year the Clarehaven handler and his son and training partner Thady are represented by another top-class filly in Emily Upjohn, winner of the Coronation Cup at Epsom last month before being touched off by Paddington in an Eclipse thriller at Sandown three weeks ago.

“She came out of the Eclipse well and she’s going back up in trip to a mile and a half. She won over the course and distance on Champions Day last year, albeit against fillies, whereas this is probably the race of the season, so it’s a different ballgame,” said Thady Gosden.

“It’s a particularly strong and deep field – pretty much everyone has turned up. It’s a shame the Derby winner from last year (Desert Crown) isn’t in the race, but nevertheless for the racing purists it’s going to be a fascinating watch.

“We’ve got options from where we’re drawn (eight) and we just hope we get a good trip round.”

Westover, winner of last season’s Irish Derby, got back in the Group One winner’s circle after landing the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud earlier this month and takes on Emily Upjohn again after finishing second to her in the Coronation Cup.

The home team is completed by James Ferguson’s Deauville Legend, fourth in last year’s Melbourne Cup and on his Hardwicke Stakes comeback last month, and the William Haggas-trained Hamish, who bagged a fifth Group Three win in the Silver Cup at York two weeks ago.

The latter’s participation is ground dependent, however.

“Hamish will only run if it rains properly, otherwise he won’t,” said Haggas.

“He’s not going to run on good to soft, but there’s rain around and who knows? If it came up proper soft, that’s what he wants and in this company he needs it really soft or heavy, not only for him but also to maybe blunt some of the others’ ability.”

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