Michael Buckley has suffered enough disappointments on and off the track to know exactly how to enjoy the good times when they come.
The owner of Constitution Hill, who landed the Grade One Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle in a canter at Sandown, flew in from Florida for the occasion.
The Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old, having his just his second outing over hurdles, handled the deep winter ground – which was accentuated by relentless rain – and is disputing favouritism with stablemate Jonbon in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on March 15.
“He was amazing. He looks like a really, really good horse. Let’s hope he is a good horse – but he looks like one,” added the entrepreneur, who has dabbled in the theatre business, in the stock market and the city.
“I was pretty surprised because Nicky was worried the horse might not have been fit the first time he ran here, because he had not been able to get on the grass with any of his horses.
“He was worried about the ground, but you know Nicky, he worries about everything, bless him.”
Buckley has plenty to look forward to, even if the Seven Barrows yard has the aforementioned Jonbon, the full-brother to Douvan and another distinctly powerful arrow to fire in the two-mile hurdling division.
Whether they meet in the Cheltenham curtain-raiser or are kept apart, half the battle is simply getting them there in one piece. As Henderson, self-isolating at home after contracting Covid-19, admitted.
“Everybody who trains racehorses knows that nine weeks is a very long time in a horse’s career, and life, and a million things that can go wrong. There is a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and Cheltenham,” he said.
Buckley and Henderson have an iron bond, forged in a furnace of winning and suffering together.
“When you have winning day, it doesn’t really matter who trains the horse,” said Buckley.
“It is a question of getting through the rough days. For me, and I tend to be a pretty emotional fellow, it is getting through the rough days, and I’ve had a lot of rough days, which makes having a good horse so special.
“I’ve found someone in Nicky who I can get through some pretty rough days with.”
Henderson has an outstanding record in the Tolworth, having now won it six times via New York Rainbow (1992), Minella Class (2011), Captain Conan (2012), Royal Boy (2014), L’Ami Serge (2015) and Constitution Hill.
This was Buckley’s third Tolworth, as New York Rainbow and Royal Boy both sported his black and while silks. Finian’s Rainbow also landed a Queen Mother Champion Chase for him.
Yet the highs need to be enjoyed, as the lows can be crushing. The Proclamation was one such body blow.
In 1989, Henderson felt he had the potential to be the best horse he had ever trained. He was on his way to the top and then suffered a fall in the Lightning Novices’ Chase at Ascot.
Buckley said: “It was a terrible time. Even now it feels painful. I rang Nicky on the way to the opera that night and he said, ‘he is fine,’ and he had got a vet who was going to look at him in the night. He rang me the next morning and said the horse couldn’t stand up.
“I had to go to Ascot that day to see another horse and I was driving past the Brompton Oratory and I stopped the car and I went in. I lit 30 candles and said, ‘I will really be a believer if you save this horse’s life’.
“When I got to Ascot, he’d been put down. It is not good to dampen a really happy day with stories like that, but there are some pretty rough times as well.”
He added: “I remember getting a letter from Nicky the following week with all these tear stains on it. We have had a lot of tears together as well as some great times.
“When you have somebody like Nicky and he tells you that he thinks you have the next Desert Orchid, people who aren’t involved with horses, they don’t realise you get some brutal days.”
“But life is for living,” added Buckley. “All of us, when we have a setback, we can curl up and call it a day or just carry on and hope there is a better day around the corner – there was one of those today and it is wonderful.
“He is a gorgeous horse. He is just a gentle, sweet baby of a horse and yet he has this engine which is magnificent.
“Did you notice during the race it stopped raining? He can even do that for you!”
There certainly appears to be the hope of more sunnier days ahead for Buckley, Henderson and Constitution Hill.