British trainer William Muir is aiming to get recent Lingfield winner Pyledriver to the Saudi Cup meeting next year, where he would be up for the $20million Group 1 showpiece race and the $1.5million Group 3 Neom Turf Cup.
The four-year-old landed the Listed Churchill Stakes at the all-weather track on Saturday on his first run since winning the Coronation Cup on Oaks Day at Epsom in June.
Muir, who trains in partnership with Chris Grassick, will now send Pyledriver for the Hong Kong Vase on Dec. 12 before a possible tilt at the world’s most valuable race at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Feb. 26.
Pyledriver missed his intended big-race summer targets with a pulled muscle, meaning he heads into a worldwide campaign as a relatively fresh horse.
“His Lingfield win was exactly what we wanted to happen, probably a little bit more,” Muir said. “Our plan, to start with, was to go to Germany for the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Bayern the previous week. We knew he would be competitive but we also knew he wasn’t 100 percent fit. With the long journey on a horse box and the race, it might just have taken the edge off him.
“The Churchill Stakes wasn’t ideal – we had to give away a 7lbs penalty – but we thought it would be better as a prep race,” he said. “The race went perfectly – it was a great performance. He’s taken it well and come out of the race fantastically.”
The frustrations of his summer campaign – when he was ruled out of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes just days before the prestigious Ascot contest – could turn out to be a blessing in disguise as Pyledriver embarks on his globetrotting adventures.
“It was frustrating but it wasn’t worrying because it wasn’t really an injury, it was more of a niggle,” said Muir. “Because he’s such a good horse, you could have turned a niggle into a big problem if we hadn’t done exactly what was right to do.
“I think he’d have gone very close in the King George. The last piece of work he did before the race was unbelievable, the way he looked and travelled. Maybe, it was meant to be, and this winter campaign is where it happens.
“We had planned in our minds that we would give him a break after the King George but it would’ve still been very tight. If we’d have won that, we would’ve probably said ‘we’ll have a go for the Juddmonte International at York,’ so we’d have had to stop then in August to give him a break. Would we have got back for Hong Kong? I don’t know. This way, we’re definitely on target, we’re in great shape and we’re ready to go.”
Pyledriver had a successful season last year when he won the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot before landing the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at York in August.
His biggest victories have come over distances around 2400m but he had little trouble dropping down to 2000m for the Churchill Stakes. The Saudi Cup, at 1800m on dirt, is shorter still, but Muir is not overly concerned about a possible switch of surface.
“They reckon it’s the nicest dirt track in the world,” he said. “I talked to David Egan and Ted Voute (Prince Faisal’s racing manager) who was out there last year and they both said it was a lovely surface. It’s not like the dirt tracks in America and Ted said our horse would love it.
“Everything we’ve thrown at Pyledriver, he’s taken, so I would be confident enough that he’d handle it. The nine-furlongs (1800m) of the Saudi Cup is the only sort of nagging concern.
“After we finished third in the St Leger last year, I was at pains to say that we would have rather dropped back to a mile-and-a-quarter (2000m) than step up to a mile-and-three-quarters (2800m). He’s got so many gears, but we had a go, it was a British Classic and we had a go.
“The Saudi Cup meeting fits in with our time plan. At this moment in time, we’re looking to go to Hong Kong, Saudi, then we’ll go on to the Sheema Classic in Dubai. The Saudi Cup is attractive as it’s the richest race in the world but it’s one step at a time.”