Pitman living the dream in Newmarket
Enzo’s Lad (outside) winning the Gr.1 Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham in January Photo: Peter Rubery (Race Images Palmerston North)
A decision by the owners of Enzo’s Lad has enabled Michael Pitman to experience a lifelong dream in England.
As the Canterbury trainer says, he is “living the dream” as he soaks up the atmosphere in the countdown to his first appearance at Royal Ascot next week.
Pitman and his wife, Diane, are in Newmarket, England, preparing dual Gr.1 Telegraph Handicap (1200m) winner Enzo’s Lad for the first day of the Royal Ascot meeting next Tuesday. And no matter the result, he has already made himself a promise.
“This won’t be the last time I’ll be here,” Pitman said.
‘’My ambition will be to come back again. I’ll be out to find another one good enough to come over here.
"I’ve always loved the racing game and I was always going to find a way to get to Royal Ascot one day. At home I sit up and watch Royal Ascot every year. I love its history. It's the best racing in the world and it’s where it all started.
“To be part of it is simply a dream come true for me. It's the absolute highlight of my career.”
Pitman is overwhelmed with the racing scene in Newmarket, amazed at the constant string of richly bred horses going out to work on the various training tracks scattered around the town centre.
‘’The other morning I watched John Gosden send out a string of 57 horses in one hit and that’s not unusual over here,” he said. ‘’It’s amazing how many track riders they have here. Honestly it blows my mind.”
Pitman has Enzo’s Lad based at the stables of Jane Chapple-Hyam and describes it as ‘’horse heaven.”
“Jane has been so good to us and she looked after Enzo’s Lad before we got here,” Pitman said. ‘’He loves it over here and why wouldn’t he? Our neighbours are Saeed Bin Suroor, John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute, legends of the turf.”
The Pitmans have been overwhelmed by the welcome they have received in addition to the broad media coverage.
The English media has been quick to pick up on the hardships Pitman has gone through, particularly his battle with bowel cancer. It’s a fight which Pitman was determined not to stop him from getting to Royal Ascot and on route to England he received an email which lifted a great weight off his shoulders.
While at Los Angeles airport he opened the email which notified him of the all-clear after having to have an operation in Christchurch halted midway through surgery last month when some polyps were discovered.
‘’The results have come back and all is ok,” Pitman said. ‘’What a relief it has been. Now we don’t have that hanging over our heads so we can enjoy Royal Ascot even more. It’s a trip of a lifetime and we’re making the most of it.”
But when Enzo’s Lad tailed the field home in the Gr.1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) at Sha Tin last start, Pitman said he almost cancelled the UK trip.
‘’After Hong Kong I threw my hands up and was going to go straight home with him,” he said. ‘’But I left it up to the owners and they really want to go to Royal Ascot. Just about all of them are coming over and they’ve organised their top hats and tails.”
Pitman is fully aware of the class of the field in the Gr.1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m). But he has been heartened by the form reversal of last year’s winner Blue Point after finishing last in the same Hong Kong lead-up, the Chairman’s Prize Sprint.
‘’Blue Point is going to be hard to beat again and there’s another one or two they are all talking about,” Pitman said. ‘’But just to have a runner will be special for us. People might think we’re mad coming over here, but it’s an experience I will never forget.”
Provided Enzo’s Lad comes through next Tuesday’s race in good order he will back up on the last day of the Royal Ascot meeting four days later in the Gr.1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) and Pitman, who trains in partnership with his son Matthew, said he may stay on for the Gr.1 July Cup (1200m) at Newmarket on July 13.
‘’Matt’s got a seven month-old baby and he can’t be here, but he can say he is part and parcel of an international training combination,” Pitman said.