Having a runner at Royal Ascot is special for any trainer, but for Michael Pitman it has taken on a new significance after he was given the all clear from cancer while travelling to Britain for the meeting.
The New Zealand-based trainer received the news by email at Los Angeles Airport as he flew over to prepare his first British runner, Enzo’s Lad, to race in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (5f) and the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (6f).
Pitman was diagnosed with bowel cancer last August and went through 26 days of chemotherapy and radiation before enduring a major operation on October 8, which lasted more than seven hours. The 64-year-old, who underwent further surgery last month, said: “It was amazing to step off the plane in LA with my wife Diane and be told everything is fine. 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.
“I’ve had an unbelievably good run. I’ve been lucky enough to train horses for 35 years and have been on a high the whole time. There’s been bumps along the way but when I reflect on my journey it’s been outstanding and I’ve been given a new lease of life.
“I was always going to find a way to get to Royal Ascot. I stay awake and watch Royal Ascot every year and love its history. It’s the best week of racing in the world and to be part of it is simply a dream come true for me – it’s the absolute pinnacle.”
Enzo’s Lad, who was bought for $15,000, won at Group 1 level for the second time in New Zealand when successful in the Telegraph Sprint (1200m) at Trentham in January but was a well beaten last in the Group 1 The Chairman’s Sprint Prize (1200m) at Sha Tin last start.
Rated a $51 outside chance for the King’s Stand, Enzo’s Lad is being prepared for Ascot at Jane Chapple-Hyam’s yard in Newmarket – or “horse heaven” as Pitman describes it.