Pyledriver Drives Out Opposition in The King George at Ascot
The race was first run in 1951 after it was an amalgamation of two races, the first was the King George Vi Stakes, a race over two miles which was first run in 1946. The second race was to celebrate and commemorate The King’s wife, Queen Elizabeth. This was first run in 1948 and was over 1 ½ miles. Major John Crocker Bulteel, the clerk of the course at Ascot wanted to have a Group 1 race, open to international runners and decided to join the original races together. The race would be run in the July meeting at Ascot and would be open to three year olds and up, for both colts and mares and fillies over 1 ½ miles. The race has kept the same format since its first running. The race became an iconic race – one of the few that all owners and breeders wished to win. As a result, it became very attractive to companies for sponsorship. In 1975, Debeers, the world renowned diamond dealers won the opportunity to sponsor the race, a race they remained as sponsors until 2006. Since then it has been sponsored by Qipco.
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Many of the winners went onto very lucrative and successful stud careers as sought after stallions. The winners read like a whose who of the bloodstock greats. Even the first winner was Supreme Court – a prolific winner on the track, although he was never entered in any of the classics. Further early winners were the Derby second of 1953 owned by the newly crowned Her Majesty The Queen – Aureole. He won the race in 1954 before retiring to stud the following year. Other winners of the fifty’s was Ribot – a racehorse who many experts argue even today whether Ribot was the best race horse ever seen.
From 1970 to 1975, the race produced some of the greats in the sport. The likes of Nijinski, still the last horse to win the colts triple crown in Great Britain. Trained in Ireland by top trainer of the day – Vincent O’Brien – at Ballydoyle who incidentally is no relation to the present incumbent at the famous stables. Mill Reef was another top class winner, trained by Ian Balding from his yard in Kingsclere and now run by Ian’s son Andrew. In 1973 and 74, Dahlia, trained in France by Maurice Zilber for American tycoon Nelson Bunker-Hunt, a notoriously difficult man to work and train for won the race. Bunker-Hunt did not wish his filly to run in 1973 and ordered his trainer not to run, but the Maurice Zilber had different ideas, convinced that Dahlia would win – ran her anyway. He told Bunker-Hunt to fly over to receive the winner trophy from The Queen. A furious Bunker-Hunt decided he would come, but let his trainer know in no uncertain way, that if Dahlia did not win, he would take the filly away from his charge. The rest as they say is history. In 1975, many argue that the win by Grundy was the most memorable race run, just beating Bustino on the line. Personally, I disagree, for reasons I will come to later.
Between the early eighty’s and 2010, the race was won be many notables including Dancing Brave, Shergar, Nashwan, Monjeu, Galileo and Duke of Marmalade in 2008. Why on earth has he put Duke of Marmalade in the list I hear you ask? The reason is simple, My wife and I bred the second home – by a whisker, Papal Bull. It was one of the most exciting and proudest moments of my life. A small breeder, who had had winners every year of breeding race horses, finally had bred a real racehorse – one who could run and live with the world’s top horses of the day. We still dine out on the experience; of how Papal Bull took the lead with French jockey Olivier Peslier on board a furlong from the finish line, and how our horse was just pipped on the line by Duke of Marmalade ridden by Jonny Murtagh. Despite the disappointment of coming second, the thrill is still as vivid today as if it were yesterday. Incidentally, the first two home that year were over nine lengths ahead of the rest of the field of eight runners.
This year, there were six runners including the recent Irish Derby winner Westover, the one the bookies made favourite. Despite the number of runners being disappointing, the race was a strong renewal. Other runners including Mishriff, winner of over 11 million pounds around the world including 4 Group 1 races. The revitalised Broome – winner of The Harwicke Stakes at the Royal meeting just a few weeks ago was the Aidan O’Brien runner. Germany sent of the Arc winner of last year Torquator Tasso from Marcel Weiss’s yard. The final one with a shout, according to the bookmakers was the filly – Emily Upjohn – second in the English Oaks last month and was a late scratch from the Irish equivalent trained by John and Thady Gosden as is Mishriff. The final runner was Pyledriver, a five year old whose form has always been rather in and out, but he did win the Coronation Cup at this year’s Epsom Derby Meeting, but even so was sent off as the rank outsider.
As the gates opened, Mishriff completely missed the break and was left well in last place before jockey James Doyle pushed the horse further up the order. Pyledriver took the lead and was vying for the top place all the way through the race, along with Broome. Westover was another to run very free and was always pressing the leaders in the early part of the race. The German raider was always held in the rear. As the six rounded the final bend into the three furlong straight, jockey began to work. Pyledriver’s jockey Paul MacDonald kept his charge up to the mark while challenges from Mishriff, Broome and Westover all paled into insignificance as Torquator Tasso swept up the outside with his German jockey Rene Piechulek looking like he would take the race. However, Pyledriver had other ideas and this was a good day as he was not going to be denied. He took the race by a short head for smaller trainer Willie Muir. Second was Torquator Tasso for Germany and third was Mishriff. The final three were Broome ridden by Ryan Moore, Westover, the favourite with Colin Keane and finally the filly, Emily Upjohn with Frankie Dettori on board, and who sadly could not live with these other runners.
In conclusion, the day was certainly the best in the careers of both Willie Muir and jockey PJ MacDonald, but it was a race without charisma of previous renewals. There was no Enable, who won the race three times nor was there any records waiting to be broken. The top rider of the race still is the late Lester Piggott with seven wins and Sir Michael Stoute is the trainer with most wins of five. Pyledriver was the unexpected winner, but he showed that when the conditions were right and he was on good form, he is a horse difficult to beat in any race. It is now likely that Pyledriver will be aimed at the Arc in France in October, but my bet is he will not come anywhere in the finish as I expect the usual ground to be soft at best, that is what it usually is on Arc day, and therefore too soft for the horse to be able to perform.
The editor Bernard Simpson has been involved with horses and the industry for over 40 years. Together with his wife, he bred many flat racehorses including some which were Royal Ascot winners. He is also experienced in equine media using video, photography and journalism. Bernard currently lives in Wiltshire. He and guest authors now present this blog and hope you like our articles.
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