Tag Archive for: MIchael Buckley

Mouthwatering clash between Cheltenham stars at Punchestown still in the mix

Connections of Constitution Hill are likely to consider next month’s Punchestown Festival for the ultra-impressive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner.

Owner Michael Buckley has yet to speak to trainer Nicky Henderson – but revealed his brilliant prospect will “probably” be given entries in both the Champion Novice Hurdle and the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle.

Buckley is not entirely sold on the idea on going for the latter race, and was glad he did not have the temptation of taking on Honeysuckle at Cheltenham, even though the performance of his five-year-old was a serious one both visually and on the clock, breaking the track record.

“I haven’t spoken to Nicky yet, but I think we’ll just see how the horse is, probably enter him at Punchestown probably for both races and then see how he is. But it would be a terrible shame to do something really dumb,” he told Sky Sports Racing.

Michael Buckley, owner of Constitution Hill
Michael Buckley, owner of Constitution Hill (Mike Egerton/PA)

“It’s all very well saying it works out at 30 lengths difference or 20 lengths difference on the times, but races are different. They are run differently. You can’t take one that is in one way and another one in another way.

“We had a horse which was very quick out of the blocks and led the field at a huge pace. The Champion Hurdle was a different type of race.

“We’d have been mad to do it (run in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham), with a horse that had had two runs and been to a racecourse twice. It’s not like a Flat horse that’s had a Flat campaign and now gone hurdling. He’s so inexperienced. I kind of said to Nicky that one thing about not entering is we don’t have the temptation.”

Honeysuckle’s trainer Henry de Bromhead believes it would be great for racing if the pair did clash at Punchestown.

“It would be brilliant. It’s what racing is about. I think it would be fantastic. If Michael is brave enough to take us on, fair play to him,” he told Racing TV.

“What she has achieved, no other horse has achieved it.

“I wouldn’t dare to say she is going to beat Constitution Hill. I can’t answer that. What she’s achieved is way beyond a lot of horses.

“Obviously, Constitution Hill was extremely impressive, all his figures were unreal, but she’s just so consistently at the top. I can’t answer who would win it, but I think it would be fascinating if they do takes us on and wouldn’t it be amazing for the sport.”

I’m frightened of all of them, says Constitution Hill’s owner

Owner Michael Buckley remains wary of each of Constitution Hill’s rivals as the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding prepares to take his chance in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The five-year-old is the current favourite for the eagerly-awaited Festival curtain-raiser, a status he earnt with a pair of wide-margin successes in the two novice hurdles he has lined up in since joining the Lambourn stable of Henderson.

The first was a 14-length win on his rules debut at Sandown in December, after which he returned to the Esher track the following month to win again when making a steep step up to Grade One level in the Tolworth.

Successful in the latter race by 12 lengths, Constitution Hill is a best-priced 9-4 chance to claim a Cheltenham success over the likes of stablemate Jonbon and the Willie Mullins trio of Dysart Dynamo, Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard.

Sir Gerhard was a six-length winner at the Dublin Racing Festival, but having watched the race Buckley felt his jumping left something to be desired.

Constitution Hill at Seven Barrows
Constitution Hill at Seven Barrows (Tim Goode/PA)

“I didn’t think he jumped particularly well at Leopardstown, Willie said after the race that he’d missed a couple in the middle of the race, well he didn’t jump the last particularly well,” he told Sky Sports Racing.

“I thought he landed on his hind legs from memory, but having said that he beat a lot of what were purported to be good horses very easily.

“He’s a very strong travelling horse and he left a lot of horses a long way back.”

Dysart Dynamo took the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle by 19 lengths in January, but there are questions over the depth of the form and Buckley pointed to Constitution Hill’s Tolworth defeat of Jetoile, who was then last in the Betfair Hurdle, as an example of how unpredictable races can be in the novice hurdle division.

“Dysart Dynamo won by 19 lengths and I don’t know how good the horses were in the race,” he said.

Constitution Hill and his Cheltenham rival Jonbon
Constitution Hill and his Cheltenham rival Jonbon (Tim Goode/PA)

“I haven’t really studied it and also because they were running in Ireland, I don’t really know the form, but none of us know the form of these novice hurdles really.

“The horse that Constitution Hill beat in the Tolworth (Jetoile) was last in the Betfair, it’s a tall order to expect any horse to make all in the way that he tried to do.

“I don’t know if he was fine or whether they used the horse up too much, also making all the running in that race and trying to make the running in a small field in the Tolworth on much heavier ground are different things.”

Though Henderson and Mullins seem to hold all of the Supreme aces, Buckley is mindful the cards held by Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead are not to be dismissed and is also respectful of the threat posed by Kilcruit, a horse considered to be Mullins’ third string but one that seemed to rediscover some of the ability shown in bumpers when winning a maiden hurdle by 21 lengths at Punchestown in January.

“They’re all very unexposed, I’m frightened of all of them,” he said.

Constitution Hill winning the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle
Constitution Hill winning the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle (Steven Paston/PA)

“You talk about Willie’s and Jonbon, but Gordon will have something in it and Henry de Bromhead, there’s going to be, even in a small field, 12 or 14 runners, so you’re going to have to negotiate your way past a lot of good horses.

“Kilcruit might turn out to be a good horse, he was supposed to be, then he ran pretty poorly two or three times and now he’s come back to form.

“It’ll be a hard race and whoever wins it is going to have a really exciting prospect on their hands.”

The Supreme has a roll of honour that includes some of Henderson’s brightest stars, with both Shishkin and Altior claiming the race at the beginning of their careers, and the prospect of Constitution Hill adding his name to that list is a thrilling one for Buckley.

“It is possible that he could turn into on the those extraordinary horses, like Shishkin or Altior,” he said.

“It would be pretty damned exciting, I’ll say that.”

Monday Musings: Hill has the Constitution for Cheltenham

In these quality-starved weeks after the Christmas and New Year holiday periods, we seek largely in vain for a few strands of straw from which to build a brick or two of worthwhile form, writes Tony Stafford. The obsession with identifying UK horses capable of winning at Cheltenham 2022 is beginning to look a bit like Nicky Henderson – stricken at the weekend at home in Lambourn with Covid – alone against the world.

Actually the bricks-from-straw metaphor more accurately refers to my flimsy resources in putting together enough thoughts to make a 1200-1600-word weekly article at this time of year. Always the first glimmer of optimism is provided by the <clichés will say "rapidly-"> but for the sake of accuracy it’s "steadily-"increasing daylight.

I popped out on Sunday at 4.15 p.m. to the local shop and it was still light but already dark when I got home. Nine weeks to Cheltenham means 90 minutes more at either end of the day. Soon after, the clocks go forward and so do we. But that’s not saying much about racing.

The Henderson horse charged with defending his trainer’s and nation’s honour has instantly switched from the superb Shishkin, who some believe could find the brick wall of Willie Mullins’ former UK-raced pointer Energumene ending his Queen Mother Champion Chase hopes.

No, a new star emerged over the weekend in the shape of Constitution Hill, named after the road that flanks the big garden wall alongside Buckingham Palace on one side and Green Park in London’s West End on the other.

Constitution Hill, ridden by Nico De Boinville in the colours of Michael Buckley, put in an extraordinary performance in the mud at Sandown Park on Saturday, running right away from a quintet of nice novices, going two to their one as the old commentators used to put it.

Rarely do you witness horses coming up an incline in muddy conditions seemingly giving no mind to the arduous nature of the task. He could have been running up to the winning post on good ground at Royal Ascot so little did he look like a jumper somewhere near the end of his tether, as most animals have been this past couple of weeks.

Constitution Hill was the sixth Henderson winner of the Tolworth Hurdle, now sponsored by Unibet but a race of several guises and a few venues with seasonal abandonments, meaning Ascot, Warwick and Kempton have all played temporary host to this much-coveted novice prize.

A glance back at its history since inauguration in 1976 reveals the inevitable Desert Orchid in 1984, so he’s on that roll of honour as well as the Clarence House (initially Victor Chandler Chase) as was chronicled last week.

Henderson’s first of six, New York Rainbow in 1992, was also owned by Buckley, but I recall his owning smart horses even earlier than that. For almost three years between 1969 and late 1971 I was on the Press Association racing desk and just before I left, John De Moraville, son of the former trainer of the same name who handled the wonderful stayer and later breed-defining jumps stallion Vulgan, joined the team. John later became Bendex at the Daily Express, following the colourful Charles Benson in the role. He was still later a Jockey Club/BHA jumps handicapper.

John was half-brother to Peter Bailey, a successful jumping trainer at the time who had a youthful Michael Buckley among his owners. In those days his colours were white and black, halved I think, almost in the Oppenheimer manner and with sleeves reversed – one white, one black.

His best chaser at the time was Strombolus and while I could not find that horse’s career on wikipedia, I did find him participating in a race on the internet. I keyed in his name and was directed to the film of the 1979 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park, which was won by Tommy Carmody on Silver Buck.

As Peter O’Sullevan informed the gathered crowd, which included yours truly, victory would be the jockey’s second in a row as he had also ridden Gay Spartan to success 12 months earlier.

Tommy, who joined from Ireland as stable jockey to Tony Dickinson, would win it again on Silver Buck a year later for the hat-trick by which time Michael had taken over the licence from his father. It was during that time that Dickinson junior told me: “I’ve had that little sod William Haggas ringing me up from Harrow School again telling me how to train his mother’s horse!” Christine Feather owned Silver Buck.

The Harewood team was to make it five-in-a-row in the race when, after the 1981 renewal was lost to the weather, Wayward Lad collected the next two. Both horses featured in the Famous Five Gold Cup of 1983 but Carmody left after completing his hat-trick. He was supplanted principally by Robert Earnshaw – still working for the BHA as a stipe the last I saw – Graham <sorry mate, you can’t have a trainer’s licence> Bradley, Kevin Whyte, Dermot Browne (ahem!) but plenty more.

I used to talk to Michael most days then and when I heard Carmody, already a prominent rider in Ireland, was joining the team I decided to back him for the jump jockeys’ title and suggested to Robert Glendinning, the Daily Telegraph Racing Editor, he should back him too.

Bob duly agreed to take a tenner of my bet. A few months later, Bob was about to retire and on the Friday evening before Grand National Day as he was finishing that night he handed over the ten quid with a grunt – “worst bet I ever had!” in his best West Yorkshire tones.

It was one of my many impecunious days, so, aware there was one race still to run at Aintree, I dived down to Corals in Fleet Street and had a fiver each way on a Peter Easterby horse ridden by Alan Brown and it won at 15/2.

Also at that time I had a regular weekend slot on BBC Radio London with Wembley ice hockey announcer Norman De Mesquita – on his weeks off, substitute Simon (brother of outrageous actor Oliver) Reed, who still commentates on ice skating. I’d go off on my Friday lunch break to Marylebone High Street where Derek Thompson’s first wife (of three) Jenny was a producer.

My interview went out in a sports programme at tea-time majoring on the big meeting of the following day with a repeat on the Saturday morning show which ended at 11.30. When we did the interview I was very strong on the Gordon Richards-trained Tamalin, but by the time I got back with my winnings, he had been declared a non-runner.

A quick look through put me on to Rubstic, so I parlayed the winnings into 25 each way on him at 33’s,  then called Norman to offer to come in the following day and do the slot live. The complication was that I lived in Hertfordshire and needed to bring the family to my mother-in-law in Highbury. We left in plenty of time, but had to stop three or four times as the kids were all feeling car-sick. Listening to the show as I neared the studio, I heard Norman saying I was about to arrive. It was a tense few minutes but I made it to the studio at 11.22; duly tipped the winner and on Monday popped in to Corals again to collect. Six months later I was Racing Editor!

That 1979 King George had another link to the Tolworth Hurdle as the horse that won the first running, Grand Canyon, was in the line-up. A New Zealand-bred horse, he was trained in Sussex by Derek Kent and ridden by long-time Jockey Club/BHA starter Peter Haynes. Grand Canyon shared a good pace with Tied Cottage, later that season the disqualified winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, ruled out after his feed was found to be contaminated. Grand Canyon fell and Tied Cottage faded into fourth in the King George in question.

And a further link to this weekend was that Tied Cottage’s trainer was Dan Moore, who a decade earlier had been the highly assured handler of L’Escargot, my favourite jumper of all time and the most underrated, too, in my opinion. Dan and his wife Joan, parents of long-standing trainer Arthur, are commemorated every year in the big novice race on yesterday’s Fairyhouse card.

Silver Buck, later the 1982 Gold Cup hero, had to be ridden right out at Kempton to hold off Jack Of Trumps, one of the earliest high-class horses owned by a very youthful J P McManus. Third was another smart performer in Border Incident, trained by Richard (Lord) Head.

Strombolus was up there in the first four for a long way but gradually weakened; he subsequently won plenty of good long-distance handicaps. Buckley has done really well for almost half a century, but one of his lesser-known associations was with the 2008 Triumph Hurdle winner, Zaynar.

During the Victor Chandler Chase times, Nicky often tried to get the bookmaker into owning horses but ownership didn’t really interest him - unless he could have a major successful punt. Zaynar, who was an Aga Khan horse with a good jumping pedigree but a non-winner in three flat races in France, was offered to several people including Ray Tooth, who had Punjabi running in that year’s Champion Hurdle – he finished third. Eventually a mutual friend encouraged Chandler to buy the horse with him, initially 50/50.

Each half was later sub-divided in portions of varying size with an ownership name of Men In Our Position, an appropriate one to encompass any situation. Zaynar was unbeaten in his novice year winning the Triumph and his next two the following season before losing at 1/14 at Kelso after which he never reached the heights anticipated.

The entertaining Victor Chandler biography by the multi award-winning author Jamie Reid – Put Your Life On It – recalls that Triumph Hurdle. But the friend I mentioned remembers it for a different reason. He says with some irritation that while Michael Buckley had the smallest share, he left Prestbury Park that night with the magnificent trophy in his possession.

Buckley has had many great horses, and when for several years he reduced his involvement with jumpers and therefore Henderson, he built a significant flat-race team with Jamie Osborne. They had tremendous success together and it was by only a matter of inches that he was denied what would have been his biggest win of all.

In 2014 the three-year-old Toast Of New York, a £60k yearling buy, finished a neck runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on the back of success in that year’s UAE Derby, and arguably should have been awarded the race in the stewards' room. He cashed in, selling the horse to Qatari interests.

Michael Buckley can look back with satisfaction at his life of involvement with top-class horses and big-race success. Who’s to say that the best of all is not still to come with Constitution Hill, starting at Cheltenham in two months?

  • TS

Buckley looks on in adoration as Constitution Hill lives up to top billing

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.