Newmarket's Kiwi visitor bids to make Royal Ascot dream come true for trainer given cancer all-clear en-route to UK
It's an underdog mission of truly epic proportions but if New Zealand-trained Enzo's Lad can win at Royal Ascot tomorrow, there won't be a dry eye in the house across two hemispheres.
Sixty-four-year-old Michael Pitman is out to prove that dreams can come true and emotions ran high at a press conference at the Jockey Club on Thursday as the one-time sports shop manager outlined his hopes for his gelding who is currently billeted at Newmarket trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam's Abington Place yard in Bury Road.
Relishing his stay at Headquarters which he called "heaven for horses" Pitman was full of praise for the welcome he had received. "Jane and her staff have been fantastic," he said. " The facilities here are incredible. It makes you realise how up against it we are with our training facilities back home."
Enzo's Lad will be 50-1 or longer for the King's Stand Stakes,when he will be taking on many of the best sprinters in Europe, including Battaash and last season's winner, Blue Point.He will go into the race off the back of a disappointing run in Chairman's Sprint at Sha Tin in Hong Kong last month, a performance which Pitman admitted saw him wanting to pull the plug on a tilt at the Group 1Ascot prize.
But his owners were still up for the challenge and the stars appeared to be aligned when, as he stopped over at Los Angeles on route to London, Pitman received an email giving him the all-clear from the bowel cancer he had been diagnosed with last August which saw him go through 26 days of chemotherapy and radiation before a major operation on October 8, which lasted more than seven hours.
"I opened the email and it was like winning the lottery – I'm the same as everybody else, I want to live and now I've got my life ahead of me," said Pitman, who lost both of his parents to cancer.
"When you have been through what we have been through, and lots of other people are going through with cancer, it gives you a different perspective and you may only get one crack at having a Royal Ascot runner in your lifetime."
Pitman first took out a trainer's licence 37 years ago. A month later he was hit by a car and lost his lower left leg. He spent six months in hospital and left in wheelchair with just 17 dollars to his name.
Back then, few would have thought he would train more than a handful of winners, let alone the more than 1700 his records now show.
Pitman runs his training operation with his 31-year-old son Matthew and his wife Diane is also an integral part of the business.
But just over five years ago another shadow fell over their Christchurch base when Pitman's older son Jonny took his own life aged just 28.
Never far from his family's thoughts his memory lives on with Enzo's Lad as the racing colours he carries bear the letter J.
For a man who has beaten the odds on more than one occasion training a Royal Ascot winner is a challenge he is relishing and who would bet against him? It would be hard to imagine anyone begrudging the affable Kiwihis moment in the sun should his speedster spring an upset.
Read moreHorse Racing
More by this authorAlison Hayes