William Muir admits it will be a dream come true if Pyledriver can provide him with a first top-level success in the Pertemps St Leger.
The Harbour Watch colt was a 40-1 shot when runner-up on his three-year-old debut at Kempton in early June, since when he has won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York, with a luckless run in the Derby sandwiched in between.
Pyledriver disputes favouritism for the season’s final Classic – and his trainer is in confident mood.
“The horse had a quiet week to 10 days after York, but he’s back in his normal routine now and he’s as fit as a flea,” said Muir.
“You don’t dream about how good it would feel to win, you dream about all the things that could go wrong.
“If it comes off, what it would do for me and the yard would be immense.”
The one big question hanging over Pyledriver is whether his stamina will last out over Doncaster’s mile and three-quarters, in a race that forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
Muir added: “On the dam’s side of his pedigree he will stay, but he is by Harbour Watch, which is why everyone is asking the question.
“I think he’ll stay. If he’d gone another couple of furlongs at York, would anything have beaten him? I don’t think they would.
“I’m in such a good place because the owners have said ‘what’s the worst that can happen if he doesn’t stay? He’ll get beat and then we can come back in trip’. There’s no gun at my head and owners saying ‘if he gets beat you’re shot to pieces’.
“He is in fantastic form and if he stays, it will take a very good one to beat him.”
It is 19 years since Aidan O’Brien claimed his first St Leger success with 2001 hero Milan, since when he has added to his tally with Brian Boru (2003), Scorpion (2005), Leading Light (2013), Capri (2017) and Kew Gardens (2018).
The Ballydoyle trainer’s chief hope this time around is Santiago, winner of the Queen’s Vase and the Irish Derby before placing third behind star stayer Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup.
Reflecting on that most recent performance, O’Brien said: “It maybe didn’t work as we’d liked. We usually like to take our time on him and he just hit the gates on Ryan (Moore) and he couldn’t really get him back. He was just sitting in the second position and Ryan would have felt maybe he was a gear too high all the way.
“Because of that he went from travelling very well to having to drop him and ask him to go and race very quickly and he really didn’t get his breath to go again.
“It didn’t really work, but it didn’t do him any harm and he seems to be in good form. We had to give him a little bit of an easy time after it, because obviously when things don’t work or go smooth for a horse usually they have a harder race, but he seems to be in good form again.”
Frankie Dettori partners Santiago and rates Pyledriver as his chief threat.
He said: “Santiago is a Classic winner, he stayed two miles at Goodwood. In an open race, he’s a great ride.
“William Muir’s horse is the one to beat – without a doubt. You need class to stay – and he’s got class.”
O’Brien also saddles Dawn Patrol and Mythical, while his son Joseph is represented by a major contender in Galileo Chrome, who will be ridden Tom Marquand after regular pilot Shane Crosse returned a positive test for Covid-19 on Friday morning, before travelling from Ireland.
The son of Australia is three from three this season, but faces a step up in class.
O’Brien junior said: “Last time out he quickened up impressively, he showed a big turn of foot. It was quite a hot race, obviously not as hot as the St Leger, but it was quite hot and he couldn’t have been any more impressive.
“I think he goes there with a good each-way chance. He’s got to step up a little to win, but we’re hoping he’ll run very well.”
Hukum is a similarly progressive type for trainer Owen Burrows and owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, having impressed in winning the King George V Stakes at the Royal meeting and the Geoffrey Freer at Newbury so far this season.
The owner’s racing manager, Angus Gold, said: “We’re still learning about him, he’s lightly raced for the time of year, but he’s done everything well this season.
“Last year I thought he was going to be a lovely horse for this year but he was disappointing us in the spring, everyone told me he was showing nothing.
“We went to Ascot to see where we were and obviously he won that well and it that turned a light on in his head. He’s done really well since.
“Hopefully he’ll run a very good race. I’m not saying he’s going to win a Leger, but I don’t think he’ll be far away.
“Owen has been at pains to say he’s not simply a stayer, but at the same time he stayed well enough at Newbury to make you think he won’t be beaten for stamina. He might not be good enough, but I’ll be surprised if it’s a lack of stamina that beats him.
“Hopefully next year we’ll be looking at races like the Hardwicke and the King George.”
Tyson Fury was a winner on his debut at Doncaster in early July, but has not been seen in competitive action since.
There was talk his boxing namesake might be in attendance this weekend, but with the general public no longer permitted to attend following a change in protocols, that now appears unlikely.
Trainer Richard Spencer said: “It’s a tall ask, obviously, but his work has been good and he’s the only unbeaten horse in the race!
“I think Tyson will be watching at home, so fingers crossed the horse runs a nice race.”
Mark Johnston’s Subjectivist, the Andrew Balding-trained Berkshire Rocco, David Simcock’s Mohican Heights and Sunchart from Andrew Slattery’s yard complete the line-up after the Grand Prix de Paris-bound English King was, as expected, declared a non-runner.