As Michael Pitman opened the most important email of his life, he knew one thing.

Regardless of what his oncologist had written to him, Pitman and his wife Diane were going to Royal Ascot.

It helped that they were halfway there, in Los Angeles Airport, when Pitman received what could have been a life or death message.

His battle with bowel cancer is well known in the horse racing industry, how the seemingly unstoppable Canterbury trainer had made it to the Cox Plate to see his mare Savvy Coup take on Winx just weeks after surgery to remove his cancer last October.


But this time, Pitman feared the worst.

Just a few weeks ago, he was on the operating table, expecting to have his colostomy bag removed and his bowel reconnected. The operation did not go as planned.

"I woke up in the recovery room and knew something wasn't right," said Pitman.

"They explained to me they hadn't performed the operation because they had found a polyp and they weren't sure whether it was cancerous or not. So they had to do a test and then get back to me.

"I tried to be positive but after what we have been through, I thought, 'if this is cancer again, I might be buggered this time'.

"The test results were due back the day we were supposed to fly to London for Ascot but Diane and I decided we are going regardless of what the results said.

"This is the experience of a lifetime and you can't stop living just because something has gone wrong.

"So I told the doctor: 'I'm a big boy, email me the results and we will deal with whatever they say'."


The email arrived while the Pitmans were in transit. The polyp was benign.

The Pitmans sat staring at the phone, surrounded by strangers who couldn't have known one of their fellow passenger had just received a second chance.

"It was very emotional," admits Pitman.

"But it wouldn't have mattered what that email said as far as the trip was concerned. We were still going on to London and to Ascot. This is what people like me live for."

So the Pitmans are now in what Michael calls "heaven for horses", England's epicentre of thoroughbred training, Newmarket.

They are there as their two-time Telegraph winner Enzo's Lad prepares to be just the second New Zealand-trained horse of the modern era to race at Royal Ascot.

The iconic meeting begins next Tuesday and Enzo's Lad will be 50-1 or longer for the Kings Stand, taking on many of the best sprinters in Europe, including Battaash and last season's winner Blue Point.

Ironically Blue Point won the 1000m straight dash last season after finishing last in the Chairman's Sprint in Hong Kong, exactly where Enzo's Lad finished six weeks ago.

Immediately after that defeat, Pitman pulled the plug on the Ascot trip. But his owners insisted they still wanted to go and Pitman's recent dance with the devil convinced him to change his mind.

"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," said the 64-year-old.

"So it didn't take much to convince me to keep going on to Ascot.

"And I'm glad we did because experiences like this are what horse people like me live for."

Enzo's Lad is stabled at Jane Chapple-Hyam's yard where the horse is happy but the trainer is even happier.

"It is an amazing place. There are 3000 horses trained here in Newmarket. We are just across the road from three of the best trainers in the world, including John Gosden.

"The other day, he [Gosden] sent out what I was told was 57 horses in one bunch to work on the gallops.

"I was just amazed and the facilities here are incredible. It makes you realise how up against it we are with our training facilities back home."

Now the Pitmans, who if they weren't racing at Royal Ascot next week would be racing at Oamaru the same day, are taking it all in. Enjoying the second chance that came by email.

There are a lot of social engagements that comes with being only the second Kiwi-trained horse to race at the Royal meeting after Seachange finished 12th in the Golden Jubilee 11 years ago.

"The horse is well, he galloped great on Saturday. And we are going to enjoy every moment of it. You only live once."

Top Kiwi jockey joins carnival

Enzo's Lad won't be the only Kiwi racing at Ascot with champion jockey James McDonald receiving a late call-up for the carnival.

Just a few weeks ago McDonald, the New Zealand wonder jockey who has completely dominated the Sydney premiership this season, was resigned to missing the Royal meeting.

But that all changed over the weekend as three different trainers made contact asking if he was available.

"I am just waiting for the paperwork to be cleared for the work visa but once that is done I'm going," McDonald told the Herald.

"And it is even looking like I could have rides all five days.

"So it is a real turnaround from a few weeks ago and it will be fantastic to ride there again."

McDonald rode a winner at the Royal meeting last season and is set to leave Sydney tomorrow night and have a brief holiday after Ascot to re-charge his batteries as he prepares to defend his premiership next season.

"At this stage, I don't plan to be back riding in Sydney until mid of even late July. But it is going to be special to get back to Royal Ascot. There is nothing else like it."

Royal Ascot

• The world's most iconic race meeting.Five days of racing starts next Tuesday.

• Enzo's Lad is only the second New Zealand-trained galloper of the modern era to race at Royal Ascot.

• His trainer Michael Pitman knows how lucky he is to be there.