Almost 12 years on from riding his first winner on the Paul D’Arcy-trained Bank on Benny at Salisbury on September 27th 2006, William Buick fulfilled all the aspirations of his friends and family, not least his father Walter, when driving home Masar to win the Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday, writes Tony Stafford. He has rightfully earned his place in the Annuls of the Turf.
Scots-born Walter had to relocate to Scandinavia and, for a while, Germany where he trained to make a decent living, but he was always determined that young William would make it over here. Regular school holidays to the UK put him in contact with potential future employers, but also introduced him to a few Press Rooms, notably Newbury, where he met a number of racing journalists.
Walter’s numerous connections – not to mention his son’s obvious innate riding talent - helped secure an apprenticeship with Andrew Balding, where he’d been a regular holiday visitor for years. However, when the young Buick, not exactly totally at home speaking English in those days, started out he found the rides hard to come by.
Buick senior is traditional jockey-short in stature and while William was to grow to considerably taller, in his mid-teens he weighed barely 5st. Bank on Benny opened the flood gates, or so Walter thought, but getting on for a month later, that was still the state of play, while the reaction to him at the Jockey School was not always too positive either.
The person who pushed William’s career forward more quickly than would have been the case was a former trainer who sort-of shared Sunday’s Racing Post’s front page with Buick’s Derby win.
By mid-October 2006 Walter Buick was getting desperate – in the true sense of the word – and I managed to put him in touch with a small trainer, based at Exning near Newmarket. That person had already had his first Group 3 winner – his Blitzkrieg beating the previously-unbeaten Dylan Thomas, the future Arc winner - in a two-year-old race at Salisbury a couple of years earlier. Prior to training, Vince Smith was a journeyman jockey specialising in winning the Jersey riding championship both on the Flat and over Jumps.
You might have thought that this would be the impetus for Vince’s career, but owner Richie Baynes, a major nurseryman in East Anglia, decided to sell Blitzkrieg to Hong Kong and then soon after remove the rest of his string.
Anyway, in the remainder of the 2006 season, wins on the Dave Clayton-owned Vacation on November 3rd and December 2nd, interspersed with a Balding-trained success on Lordswood on November 13th, did have the effect of bringing the young jockey, whose struggle to carry the saddle back to weigh in tested his fortitude, to more general attention.
Then it clicked. In the last fortnight of the year Buick rode six more winners, including a double on December 16th, which were the prelude to him amassing 67 victories the following year. Of his 94 total rides in the year, Vince Smith provided 19, not just encouragement, but useful match practice. By contrast William had only 11 rides for his boss. Without Vacation, the start would have been even more hesitant, although the outcome for this highly-personable young man was always written clearly in the stars. It also helped that he was given an invitation to spend the winter riding in the US early in the piece.
So where was Vince Smith on the Racing Post front page? Like all his friends – and he trained the last winner in my old red colours, coincidentally Richie Boy in the 11.25 a.m. race at Warwick on a Saturday morning in 2004 – I was shocked when I heard he was going to live the rest of his life as a woman.
Now as Victoria, in yesterday’s article he gives Steve Dennis chapter and verse about the whys and wherefores and also the physical steps he will be taking to make the total transformation. I had no idea it would happen and I’m happy that I had an hour or so in the owners’ tea room at Newmarket back in the spring to listen to his detailing the constant anguish he suffered for all his adult life while we all thought him first and foremost a ladies’ man. Having had my 18 stitches out (ouch) last week after my minor surgery, I’ve been imagining what Victoria will have to endure over the coming months and years. I wish her well.
Buick fits comfortably into the Godolphin operation as does their other main rider, James Doyle. Like Buick, Doyle and his sister Sophie, who has done extremely well as a jockey since relocating to the US, are from a racing family, mother Jacqui having trained before latterly devoting herself to her son’s career. Their father Bill Perrin trained jumpers in the East Anglia region.
James and Sophie were often to be seen around Huntingdon racecourse when the Perrins had a runner and when that marriage failed, Jacqui started a stable in Lambourn backed for a while by my old Eton Manor opening partner, Tom Ford, who remains a racehorse owner and a person ever ready for the chance to offer criticism of my fielding prowess of 50-odd years ago to anyone who will listen.
After the Guineas this year I bumped into Jacqui Doyle and she was with Charlie Appleby’s mother, who I learned used to train point-to-pointers in Devon and that was where and when her son had his first win as a rider. Mrs Appleby admitted to her pride in her son’s career, but knew he craved a Classic winner above all else. That’s happened and now, like young Buick, they will find themselves in a different category.
Charlie Appleby has been with Godolphin for 20 years, for a while with David Loder when he trained, and it must be interesting that so long after those days, the sales purchases that come his and Saeed bin Suroor’s way are jointly sourced by Loder, with Anthony Stroud now reinstalled at the centre since the departures of John Ferguson and earlier Simon Crisford, and with John Gosden as the supreme arbiter.
Saeed’s irritation at what was perceived as an imbalance of talent in the two-year-old intake of last season will not have been assuaged by the sight of the highly-approachable and modest Appleby at the top of the trainers’ table with more than £1.6million in prizemoney from 44 wins and 131 runs, and 33 individual winners from 70 horses. Saeed’s £116k from 15 wins and 66 runs, and 11 winners from 40 individuals must make frustrating reading, bearing in mind the glory days, although he does seem happier with the present crop of juveniles.
But nobody in Godolphin will be anything other than euphoric this morning. Back in 1982, soon after we met in Kentucky for the first time, I sat in a car outside Richard Casey’s livery yard in Dullingham near Newmarket with Sheikh Mohammed and (now Sir) Michael Stoute when the Sheikh was waiting to inspect the young horses about to go into Freemason Lodge.
At one point the Sheikh looked over and said, and this is a sentence I’ve never forgotten: “It doesn’t take just three years to build a stud operation, it can take 30!” Until Saturday and the home-bred Masar, I often found myself saying to myself: “And you’re not there yet!” Now, in New Approach, admittedly a son of Galileo, but one that they recruited along with Jim Bolger as a way to circumvent their own self-imposed ban on Coolmore pedigrees, they’ve bred a Derby winner from their own Derby winner. True it has taken 36 years, but nobody’s counting any more.
I’m sure that when the disappointment of whatever caused Saxon Warrior’s eclipse – and I did find his pre-race unease in the paddock with some pretty scary raising and pushing forward of first one then the other hind leg towards the front of his body slightly alarming – the common sense among the defeated tribe might reflect that this will help keep the other major player interested.
Going forward it will be interesting to see whether Saxon Warrior will be campaigned again at a mile and a half. Certainly middle-distance Aidan O’Brien Classic-standard colts – though not fillies – are thinner on the ground than for some years. It would be no surprise if Mark Johnston steps in at The Curragh with the ultra-tough Dee Ex Bee.
On the subject of Mark Johnston, his filly Main Edition, almost four lengths too good for the boss’ and his partners’ strong-finishing filly Laxmi on debut at Windsor – as told last week – stepped up with a fast win against colts at Goodwood on Friday night. She won by a similar margin to Windsor’s and the obvious merit of the win can be gauged by the six-length debut romp half an hour later of the Roger Varian-trained filly Impulsion. It took her almost two seconds more – around ten lengths – to complete the six furlongs. Maybe a few will be frightened of Laxmi when she goes to Haydock on Thursday!